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Kalen Thorton: The Power of Sport

Kalen Thorton

From the fall 2016 issue of McCOMBS, the magazine for alumni and friends of the McCombs School of Business.

The metaphor of sport to life has never been lost on Kalen Thornton, BBA '03. A star Longhorn turned Dallas Cowboys linebacker, Thornton believes his hours on the field have yielded huge dividends in his career in marketing with Nike.

"Sports offer the same discipline, the same process, that you go through to be a wealth management expert, a Fortune 500 CEO, or a marketer," Thornton says. It's a process familiar to him from childhood. Son of Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Bruce Thornton, the younger Thornton played "everything under the sun" as a kid.

After earning Academic All-Big 12 student-athlete honors at UT, Thornton joined the Cowboys in 2004, knowing that a long-standing knee injury would limit his career longevity.

After his time in the NFL, Thornton worked for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and then took an MBA at Stanford, hoping to make a career transition that reconnected him with athletes — that subculture of people "aspiring to be the best versions of themselves," he says.

He found it. As global brand senior director for Nike skateboarding, Thornton's job is "to figure out the right way to engage with our athletes." His Nike highlights include helping launch FuelBand and piloting Nike+ Run Club, which made him a runner himself — an "interesting transition" for a linebacker, Thornton says.

Pushing such limits while bringing people together: this is the magic of athletics, and it has global implications, he says: "I think there's so much power in it that's unrealized."

-Selah Maya Zighelboim

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