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Scott Pederson: “Do not let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do”

Hines Ward has been not only a spokesperson for Positive Athlete but an inspiration and example for what we do. Most people either know Hines as a Super Bowl MVP for the Pittsburgh Steelers, or champion on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”. But Hines’ story goes back to growing up in Korea as a bi-racial […]

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Hines Ward has been not only a spokesperson for Positive Athlete but an inspiration and example for what we do. Most people either know Hines as a Super Bowl MVP for the Pittsburgh Steelers, or champion on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”. But Hines’ story goes back to growing up in Korea as a bi-racial kid who was bullied because of his mixed race. His mom moved him to Forest Park, Georgia which initially compounded the problem because white and black kids were equally mean to him. But his positive attitude overcame those challenges and his athletic ability became a source of focus. This bullied bi-racial kid became one of the most celebrated athletes in this country. He was even invited back to Korea to be celebrated on national television with the President of South Korea and immediately changed the culture in Korea by saying “Look what a bi-racial kid can do”.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Pederson, CEO and Founder, The Positive Athlete. Scott has spent over 35 years of his career marketing some of the most high-profile sports events, corporations and celebrities in the world. He has staged a World Series, helped develop the National Football League’s most high-profile grass-roots event property (Punt, Pass & Kick), and negotiated endorsement contracts for professional athletes. He has consulted with each of the four major sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NASCAR and NBA) and with many sports franchises. He has also designed numerous programs enabling clients to leverage their sponsorship investments at retail, including Miller Brewing Company, Gatorade, Pillsbury and General Mills. Prior to founding Universal Marketing Associates in 1990 and before merging his company with Leader Enterprises, Inc., in 2000, he was director of Marketing at Oklahoma State, Director of Marketing for the Kansas City Royals, and Regional Manager for Miller Brewing Co. Sports. Under his ownership/leadership of Leader Enterprises, the company grew to a 12 million dollars agency with clients such as Nike, Motorola, TaylorMade, DirecTV, Vizio and General Mills to name a few. Leader’s marketing and public relations plan for Lance Armstrong’s “LiveStrong” yellow wrist band programs is considered one of the most successful cause-marketing campaigns in history. Scott sold his interest in Leader Enterprises seven years ago and started Celebrate Positive, LLC so that he could focus his efforts on the marketing and development of a program called Positive Athlete. With the help of Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward, the Positive High School Athlete Awards were created in Pittsburgh and then in Georgia where over 400,000 dollars in scholarships have been given away to student-athletes who have overcome obstacles, given back to their communities, and been a positive influence in their schools. It is estimated that over 10,000 high school student-athletes will be nominated nationwide in 2019–20 with market-specific programs in New York, Michigan, Washington and Minnesota. In February of 2020, The Positive Athlete — 100 Inspirational Stories of High School Student-Athletes book was released and a weekly video cast was launched in May 2020.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Sports were my passion, but I knew I was not a good enough athlete to make it as a professional athlete. Growing up in a small town in Nebraska, my goal in life was to live in a city with a professional baseball team so I could see a game from time-to-time. But I found a way to be involved in athletics through PR and marketing in college at the University of Nebraska. That exposure opened doors with Oklahoma State Athletics, the Kansas City Royals, Miller Brewing Company Sports, and ultimately starting my own sports marketing company in the early 90’s. I’ve met sports leaders in virtually every league and was involved in several high-profile events, marketing/PR campaigns and I saw all of the positive sports had to offer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The original idea for Positive Athlete was to build a new sports apparel brand along the lines of brands like “No Fear”. But as I talked to professional athletes, I kept hearing the complaint that no one was interested in telling positive stories about athletes. Only stories about dogfighting, steroid abuse, and athletes behaving badly seemed to be of interest to the media. So, I decided to pivot on the idea of an apparel brand and it quickly turned into a calling to celebrate interesting and positive stories of athletes, specifically high school athletes. Had I not been willing to make that pivot, 400,000+ dollars in college scholarships would not have been given to some very inspirational kids.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I can’t think of anything I would consider “funny” in terms of a mistake. Lots of funny things have happened during the history of Positive Athlete, mostly some of the nominations and pictures we’ve gotten. But I wouldn’t want to embarrass those people.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Most awards relative to high school sports are tied to a student-athlete being athletically gifted. Only 2% of the kids playing sports receive those kinds of awards. 100% of the kids playing high school sports are eligible to win Positive Athlete awards because they are not based on how well the kid plays their sport. Positive Athlete recognizes them for the challenges they’ve overcome (home life, illness, disabilities) or how they have given back significantly to their schools and communities. This has changed the culture in schools because kids are realizing the value of positivism for their futures in terms of college applications, future job opportunities, and relationships with other people. We now receive over 10,000 nominations each year, and we believe we’ll be in the hundreds of thousands in the next 5 years. An added bonus is that kids are hearing the stories of how other kids have given back to society and are replicating them in their own schools and communities. We say the new ROI is “Return on Inspiration”.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Hines Ward has been not only a spokesperson for Positive Athlete but an inspiration and example for what we do. Most people either know Hines as a Super Bowl MVP for the Pittsburgh Steelers, or champion on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”. But Hines’ story goes back to growing up in Korea as a bi-racial kid who was bullied because of his mixed race. His mom moved him to Forest Park, Georgia which initially compounded the problem because white and black kids were equally mean to him. But his positive attitude overcame those challenges and his athletic ability became a source of focus. This bullied bi-racial kid became one of the most celebrated athletes in this country. He was even invited back to Korea to be celebrated on national television with the President of South Korea and immediately changed the culture in Korea by saying “Look what a bi-racial kid can do”.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. While Positive Athlete receives tons of nominations each year, we know there are a large number of kids out there with stories that need to be told and need our encouragement. Especially in the underserved areas of our country where advocates for these kids are hard to find. We need more parents, teachers, and coaches to take 10 minutes to nominate a student-athlete (it’s online and free). Kids who are trying to do the right things in life need affirmation that we notice and appreciate them. This is an easy way to provide them that affirmation.
  2. We need help from corporations to provide more funding for our efforts to find these kids, and scholarships to help them succeed. Companies need to show these future leaders in a tangible way how important it is to be a high-character, teamwork-oriented leader. We have a database of connections to over 40,000 of these kids now, and it’s a pipeline of talent we’d love to share with businesses around the country.
  3. Help us get our book, “The Positive Athlete — 100 Inspirational Stories of High School Student-Athletes” into the hands of as many middle and high school students, teachers, and coaches as possible. A younger reader will either find themselves in the book, gain a new perspective on what life is like for someone with a disability or disease, or they will read a volunteerism story and say “Hey, I could do something like that in my community”. Sample List of Topic covered in the book: Adoption, Anxiety, Being Different, Broken Dreams, Bullying, Cancer, Come Backs, Community Involvement, Courage, Creating a Foundation/Non-profit, Cultural Education, Depression, Disabilities, Disappointment, Diversity, Eating Disorders, Exclusion, Faith, Feeling Different, Fitting in, Forgiveness, Fund Raising, Hair Loss, Heart Conditions, incarcerated Parent, Inclusion, Injuries, Language Barriers, Leadership, Learning Disabilities, Losing a Loved One, Mental Health, Military Families, Perfectionism, Perseverance, Quitting, Racial Stereotypes, Self-confidence, Self-image, Single-parent Homes, Sportsmanship, Suicide, Teamwork, Underage Drinking and Drugs, Volunteerism.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I actually used my leadership philosophy as a definition for the Positive Athlete movement. We ask the question, “How do you O.P.E.R.A.T.E.?” to create an acrostic: Optimistic Attitude, Puts Team First, Encouraging Influence, Respectful,

Admits Imperfections, True Heart for Others, Embodies Servant Leadership. Many schools have told us that their teams use this leadership format in their locker rooms as the standard by which they operate.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. That it takes time to receive the kind of momentum your big vision sees clearly. You expect people to buy into your vision because it makes so much sense to you, but they buy in at different rates of enlightenment. Generally, that is a lot slower rate than you anticipate. It takes time to build something because there are so many other projects hoping to grab people’s attention. At first, coaches were nominating athletes and sending in their nominee’s statistics because that is what they were used to doing. And let’s be honest, the most Positive Athlete to a high number of coaches is the star player. It took some time for them to understand what we were looking for and it had very little to do with their on-field heroics and more about their off-field heroics.
  2. Embrace the use of technology and get a younger person’s perspective. Those of us who rose up through their career ranks without the use of technology still tend to go on gut feel too often. While I still feel my experience was really important to cast the vision, the best move I ever made was hiring my son to take over the system in which we receive nominations, store the data, and communicate with thousands of high schools. It has allowed us to scale our operations to receive hundreds of thousands of nominations nationwide. My son has also been in high school more recently than I, so he understands not only the athlete’s mindset but the coach’s mindset as well. His interaction with them is the key to adapting what we are doing with what works best for the high schools.
  3. Be careful when making decisions in the early stages of a start-up brand/movement because they can cripple your ability to achieve your long-term vision. I was anxious to generate revenue for the project and almost agreed to corporate sponsorship deals that would have been hard to untangle as I grew. For example, if your vision is to ultimately be a nationwide brand/movement, giving up official sponsor status to local companies that do not have a national presence may be hard to untangle as the organization grows across the country. Looking back on it now, I am so glad those deals never ended up happening because we are now in a position to talk to national brands about significant partnerships.
  4. Lower your expectations of college interns unless you plan to pay them. We provide the opportunity for 15–20 college interns each year interested in being involved in the world of sports marketing. The work is not difficult, and the interns can do the work remotely during their free time each week. We found that maybe 1 or 2 of them followed through with what we assigned them to do because they don’t seem to understand the benefit of being associated with an organization with tons of connections in the world of sports. They want to be paid. We tried and failed with this issue for three to four years before changing the strategy. All it did was frustrate us with these students, put us behind, and create more work for us because we eventually ended up doing the work ourselves.
  5. Be flexible and ready to pivot when circumstances out of your control arise. COVID-19 is a perfect example of how we went from planning live celebration events this Spring in places like the College Football Hall of Fame, Yankee Stadium, and the Heinz History Center, to creating video celebrations on each of our award and scholarships winners. Our flexibility and quick decision making turned out to be a huge hit with our sponsors, our award winners, and high schools throughout the country. We created a production studio within a month of this challenge, and it is turning out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We’re now doing a national videocast with the help of prominent professional and Olympic athletes who are interested in sending encouraging messages to middle and high school student-athletes who lost their sports seasons due to the global pandemic. Had we not been flexible our movement would have been stalled and it would be been difficult to recover our momentum before COVID-19.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe I have in Positive Athlete. Celebrating the positive in people versus pointing out the negative is a real opportunity. I believe this is the heart of the issue with politics and the division within our country. If we can start seeing the positive in our fellow man, take time to understand who they really are, and be openminded on how to engage with them, we can turn our issues around very quickly. Teaching a generation of kids that positivism should be celebrated is a major step in turning down the division we are currently experiencing.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do not let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do”- John Wooden. I have found that with each phase of my career if gets harder and harder to keep up with the latest marketing techniques, and it can make you feel inadequate. But my years of experience, built upon a solid reputation with those I’ve ever come in contact with, plus a true heart to help others, were all the ingredients I needed to be successful later in life no matter what changed. There were people who said it was too late in life for me to take on a challenge like Positive Athlete. I have called on that John Wooden quote every time doubt started to creep in.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I have long admired Magic Johnson for reasons outside of being one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Think about all of the important platforms Magic has used to enlighten us, such as how he dealt head-on with being HIV positive during a time when people were afraid and uneducated about the disease. How he inspired underserved communities by building theaters in places no other businesses would bother attempting to build them. To being a role model for people of color and showing them what is possible to achieve in business. Inspiring them with quotes such as “If you don’t dream it, you can’t become it”. And to pay it forward like he has with 100 million dollars in loans his insurance company is funding for minority- and women-owned businesses. But for me personally, it’s the constant smile on his face, his infectious laugh, the way he greets people he doesn’t know, and the joy in which he lives life. He is more than just a Positive Athlete; he is what we should all aspire to be.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PositiveAthGA

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/positiveathga/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PositiveAthGA

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