A Seaver College professor shifts the narratives in sport and dedicates herself to student-athlete success
The Miami Heat locker room was at maximum capacity during the 2014 NBA Finals after it became clear that the San Antonio Spurs would likely take the championship. After a suspenseful penultimate game, members of the press crowded around Heat superstar LeBron James to get his take on the remaining game in the series. Amid the chaos, James noticed a cameraman physically move a reporter that was standing in his way, and the power forward immediately demanded an apology for the young woman.
Stories that demonstrate athletes doing the right thing, like the one about James, are what motivate Alicia Jessop, assistant professor of sport administration at Seaver College, academic director for sport administration at the Institute for Entertainment, Media, Sports, and Culture at Pepperdine, and the aforementioned reporter.
Three years prior to the locker room incident, Jessop, a practicing lawyer at the time, was frustrated with the ways in which athletes’ bad behaviors made headline news. Seeking to highlight narratives that featured athletes making a positive impact on their communities and beyond, Jessop launched RulingSports.com, a website dedicated to covering the great sport stories that go untold.
“Everything that you read about athletes, especially in 2011, was negative,” Jessop recalls. “As a person who had been surrounded by athletes for most of my life, I had a hard time believing that the narrative the media was perpetuating was true.”
The launch of RulingSports.com in 2011 coincided with the fourth-ever NBA lockout, and Jessop’s expert legal commentary about the heavily scrutinized event garnered the attention of many. She booked her first radio gig within 24 hours of her first published post and, six months later, signed with a sports agent whose client roster also included Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers. As the website continued to grow and gained a following, Jessop became a credentialed member of the media and began covering major sporting events from the Super Bowl to the NBA Finals. She also contributed regularly to Forbes, SI.com, and the Huffington Post.
Today, as an active member of the Pepperdine athletics department and the University Athletic Committee, Jessop has gained a better understanding of the issues student-athletes face and, since 2017, she has worked with director of athletics Steve Potts (JD ’82) and senior associate director of athletics Karina Herold to identify areas for improvement.
Jessop’s research and scholarship have led her to examine the value of an NCAA education, and while she has found that the student experience for student-athletes at most NCAA universities can benefit from program- wide improvements, Pepperdine excels at preparing students for life after graduation. “Competitors at Pepperdine are truly students first,” Jessop shares. “Pepperdine is a premier program in that regard.”
Providing students and student-athletes with the experiences and skills to help them succeed after graduation is at the forefront of Jessop’s mind and is the reason why she continues to write, most recently as a contributor for the Washington Postand the Athletic. While managing the demands of her career in academia, she remains committed to reshaping the “bad athlete” narrative and expanding her network to connect students with industry leaders as they pursue their postgraduation goals.
From the locker room to the classroom, Jessop considers herself lucky to tell stories and educate students through sport. “Sport is a conduit for change,” she says. “It has the power to bring people together across the world.”