Shawn K. McGee: Creating a Level Playing Field for Student-Athletes

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Shawn K. McGee’s son, Miles, dreamed of playing college basketball. And anyone who knows about the college athletic recruitment process knows how difficult it is to get recruited if a player’s name is not on the radar of college coaches. So, when Miles began looking for opportunities to play college basketball, he could not make much headway. Both he and his father, Shawn, got frustrated by the lack of exposure to quality coaches.

One day, ‘Coach’ Juan contacted the McGee family, claiming that he was with the world’s largest and most successful college athletic recruiting agency. He was using high-pressure sales tactics to persuade them, Shawn says. There was a constant stream of phone calls, text messages, emails, and even smoke signals. Shawn noted that they were red flags. But as they had no other option, he and Miles agreed to a phone call.

During the one-hour-long phone call, Juan did most of the talking, amping up his aggressive sales tactics. He said to Shawn and Miles that he would give them a discount if they signed up immediately; otherwise, they would have to pay several thousand dollars to join. Juan’s pressure tactics, however, failed to work. And as he knew that Shawn was a former college athlete, he asked him, “What has changed since you were recruited?”

That question led to the creation of BlueChips, a social networking platform designed to help student-athletes get exposure. Shawn founded the company along with two of his three children, Miles and Elle, in March of 2019.

A Light Bulb Went Off

Shawn describes the moment when Juan asked him that question as “the moment the light bulb went off,” adding, “I put the call on mute, looked at my son, and told him that I had a great idea.”

The idea was to start a “LinkedIn” for student-athletes. Both Miles and his daughter Elle thought that it was a great idea. So, instead of joining ‘Coach’ Juan, Miles teamed up with his father and sister and went into research mode to design an app called BlueChips.

“We named it BlueChips because a BlueChip athlete is an athlete that is talented and expected to do well as they transition from high school to college-level athletes,” Shawn says.

Levels the Playing Field

BlueChips, according to Shawn, is “the first and the only social media app created to level the playing field for student-athletes.” There was clearly a need for such an app for quite some time, he says, adding, “It is a game-changer and a tool I wish I had in my day.”

Like his son Miles, Shawn, too, played basketball during his high school years. “In fact, I made the high school basketball team, where I played point guard,” he says, adding, “I was good.”  Several colleges were interested in recruiting him. But his high school basketball coach did not care about his players and never offered positive support and encouragement. “He was not an advocate for players,” Shawn says.

“Instead of offering a hand up, he did what he could to keep us down,” Shawn says. He recalls that when a coach from a Big Ten school inquired about him and attended games, his high school coach said to him, “I was not Big Ten material.”

“At the end of the day, only one school offered me a full ride: Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky,” Shawn says. “I accepted the scholarship and went on to enjoy a wonderful college career.”

If someone had got the idea to develop an app like BlueChips during Shawn’s high school years, he probably could have used it to create a better opportunity for himself. The free app provides access to opportunities as well as empowers athletes to create their own opportunities.

Also, there are no coaches or agents like Juan on BlueChips, waiting to take advantage of players who are desperately looking for opportunities. Athletes have total control of their profiles. They control the content that is posted, and they can write their own narratives as well. And not only athletes but parents, fans, coaches and organizations can also create profiles on BlueChips. “The app is a win-win for everyone,” Shawn says.

Equal Opportunity for High School Student-Athlete

Not every talented high school student-athlete gets the opportunity to play at the college level. It might be due to a lack of resources. Some parents may have the resources to pay to ensure that their children get recruited, but many do not. “Why should the student-athlete with more money have a better chance at recruitment when they are doing the work?” Shawn asks.

He tells that BlueChips’s mission is to ensure that every high school student-athlete who wants to play at the college level has equal opportunity and exposure to the best coaches and programs, regardless of their social, geographical, or financial circumstances.

Shawn believes that BlueChips is going to revolutionize the game for aspiring players. Using the app, they can directly connect with coaches, control their own narratives, and build relationships and a fan base, he says, adding that students can also showcase their workouts and extracurricular actives. BlueChips enables student-athletes to take control of their careers, Shawn says.

Principles of Servant Leadership

After his graduation, Shawn pursued a career in legal services. “I spent 22 years at AM100 law firms,” he says. Shawn worked as a chief operating officer at a national civil rights law firm before co-founding Blue Chips.

Shawn believes in the adage, “if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” He says that he lives by that, adding, “When you love what you do, you work harder, you aim higher, and you are more motivated to be your best.” It increases confidence, and there is a sense of well-being and security as well. They are all essential to living a happy, healthy, and full life, Shawn says.

His grandmother used to tell him, “Everyone cannot handle success.” Shawn says that when he was a kid, he could not comprehend what she meant by that. However, as an adult, he now understands what she was trying to tell him. “It means there is danger in success,” Shawn says. “It can lead to complacency, arrogance, and inflexibility.” Therefore, he tries not to get too high or too low.

And Shawn strives to practice the principles of servant leadership – the leadership philosophy in which a leader focuses on the growth and well-being of others. He points out that a person can become a leader by working on these characteristics: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, and stewardship.

He believes that “active listening” is one of the most important characteristics of servant leadership. “I practice active listening by asking questions and seeking to understand people first,” Shawn says. “This provides me with the information needed to help support their success, which often becomes the company’s success.”

Dealing with Setbacks

Everyone experiences setbacks and disappointments at some point in their lives. “It is how you respond to them that matters,” Shawn says. He reveals that he was “really frustrated” when he got no offers from colleges. Then, it is his parents who told him not to worry. “It will all work out like it is supposed to,” they said to him. Shawn says they were right, as he received a call from a coach and school almost a month before the college was supposed to start. He points out that he had never heard of this college.

A Division 1 coach had referred Shawn to the college coach. The former had recruited him but later had decided not to offer him a scholarship. But, as he felt that Shawn had tremendous potential, he recommended his name and shared a few videos of his games. “I took a recruiting trip to this small private Division II school in Louisville, KY,” Shawn says. “And the coach offered me a full scholarship on the spot.”  Looking back, he now feels that the initial setback resulted in a great education from a great school and some of the best times of his life.

Shawn also experienced setbacks during the development of BlueChips. The development team delivered a product that was neither manageable nor scalable. So they had to again start from scratch. “It definitely felt like a kick in the gut,” Shawn says. But, the team’s belief in the company’s vision and their focus on people who could benefit from the app kept them going and in good spirits.

Following a Daily Routine

Shawn is an early riser. He gets up at around 6:30 a.m. He starts his day by drinking coffee, checking his emails, and working out. After that, he takes his children to school – he later in the day, picks them up from school as well. “I am in the office by 8:30,” Shawn says. “My day is ‘typically filled’ with meetings with different teams.  I also connect with investors regularly.” And he likes to spend his evenings with his family.

Shawn also calls his mother every day, to check how she is doing and to say, “Hi.” “I started doing this on the advice of a great lawyer by the name of Jerrold Solovy,” Shawn says. He considers it among some of the best advice he has ever got and “really cherishes” his daily calls with his mother.

Keeping Work-Life Balance in Check

Everyone at BlueChips understands the importance of working as a team. “We all come from that ‘there is no I in team’ philosophy,” Shawn says. And everyone gets along really well because of their common interest in sports and players.

“In terms of the company culture and vibe, it’s a fun atmosphere for sure,” Shawn says. “We have big TV screens with sports on most of the time.” The office also has ping pong and pool tables, a basketball hoop, and a putting green. “We definitely keep the work-life balance in check,” Shawn says.

Vision for BlueChips’s Future

Shawn wants to make BlueChips the number one trusted source for student-athletes exposure and recruitment. “It should be the go-to platform for student-athletes, parents, fans, and coaches to connect and network,” he says. “And it has to become the platform where student-athletes find opportunities and fulfill their dreams.”

Advice to His Younger-Self

“Follow your passion” is the advice Shawn would give his younger self. And he has always been passionate about sports, and today he is ensuring that young high school players get the opportunity to realize their dream of playing sports at the college level.

“The money will come if you follow your passion,” Shawn says. “You will be amazed how opportunities come and doors open when you are doing what you love.”

Message to Aspiring Business Leaders

Shawn wants aspiring business leaders to practice the principles of servant leadership: listening, empathy, healing, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, and stewardship. “They will serve you well in building your career,” he says. “And, above all, be nice.”