To this day, Tom Beckett lives by the words his father once told him years ago: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
These words have been the foundation of a lengthy and influential career in college sports administration. Beckett, Yale’s director of athletics, was rewarded for his work at the school with a five-year contract extension from University President Richard Levin on Oct. 5. Beckett is now entering his 15th year in the position.
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Levin commended Beckett for his contributions to the athletics program, from spearheading efforts to rebuild athletic facilities to raising morale in the athletics department.
“He has been a truly transformational leader of the athletics program here,” Levin said in an interview Wednesday. “He is an inspirational person who speaks about Yale Athletics and the values of the University very persuasively. We now have the entire coaching staff very enthusiastic about their jobs and a group of student athletes who are also tremendously enthusiastic about the programs.”
Since he first arrived on Yale’s campus, Beckett has believed Yale athletics should serve as an opportunity for student athletes to learn about themselves and how to balance their responsibilities of achieving on the athletic fields while at the same time succeeding with the academic rigor of the classroom.
“I think coaches tend to have a win-at-all-costs mentality, while Mr. Beckett really tries to look out for our well-being as student athletes,” said Susan Kim ’10, a member of the Yale women’s swim team. “He is genuinely interested in our success both in and out of the pool.”
Beckett has committed himself to fostering an environment where student athletes can thrive and coaches strive to build championship-winning teams he said. He described his responsibilities as director of athletics as carrying out the mission of the University in relation to athletics by interacting with coaches, faculty, athletes and alums, in addition to creating a competitive culture.
“I love being here, and I love the opportunity to help our student athletes enjoy this experience that they have,” he said. “There’s nothing better, there’s just a real exhilaration that I feel every single day.”
Beckett’s love for sports traces back to his father, who was a coach when Beckett was in high school. Through his father, Beckett learned to see athletics as something more than just a game. He saw them as something that could bring people together and guide young people through life.
“I admired the fact that every day, he was working with young people and helping them to improve, teaching them life’s lessons and helping to guide them through difficult times,” Beckett said of his father. “I saw the relationships that he built with those young people, and I thought, well, what a tremendous career path that would be where everyday to be able to spend time with young people trying to do good things.”
Besides his dad, Beckett said his high school baseball coach, Pepe Giovani, also played a huge role in shaping his philosophy as athletic director — a philosophy that has led him to where he is today.
“[Giovani] taught us about work ethic, he taught us about doing things the right way, he taught us about the joy of competition and he taught us about being a good teammate,” Beckett said. “He’s someone that truly had a huge impact on me in addition to my dad.”
Beckett recalled a time as a 10th grader in high school when he was nervous about trying out for the varsity baseball team, not knowing whether or not he was good enough to do it. He saw Giovani walk up to him and was sure he would say Beckett was not going to make the team.
“But he came to me with a smile on his face and he said, ‘Welcome to the varsity.’ ” Beckett said. “I’ve never forgotten that day and what it has meant to me. I’ve been trying to use that kind of a message to let people know that when they’ve done something really well, I know that they gave their all, which is exactly what Giovani said to me at that time.”
After high school, Beckett attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he played baseball and basketball. He later pursued a coaching career at Butler Community College in Pennsylvania but ended up getting his start in athletics administration at San Jose State University.
Beckett’s success in helping to transform the San Jose athletics department caught the attention of Stanford University. When Stanford tapped the Spartans’ football coach, Jack Elway, to lead their football team in 1984, Elway in turn brought Beckett, who became associate director at Stanford’s athletics department.
Ten years later, when Yale began the search for a new athletics director in 1994, Stanford President Gerhard Casper LAW ’62 called Levin to recommend Beckett for the job. The rest is history.
“I just wanted to follow that path and do the kinds of things that I saw my dad do,” Beckett said. “One opportunity led to another, and I evolved into this career as a college athletic administrator.”
Cornerback and captain of the Eli football team, Paul Rice ’10, said he has noticed Beckett’s efforts in supporting every Eli who dons the blue and white. Rice said Beckett is visible on campus and on the athletic fields, and has had a big impact on his time as an athlete here at Yale.
“He’s always the first one to come up after the game and congratulate you,” Rice said. “He remembers certain situations and plays. It’s just really evident his passion for Yale and Yale football in my case, and I think he just really knows what’s going on and he really wants to see us succeed.”