“Those fierce chess games with my father and those mellifluous lessons
in learning Spanish from my mother as a child in the hospital, coupled
with Dad’s chemistry lessons and Mom’s mother-son piano duets at
home, were the first steps in my journey of learning life strategy and
in my love of acquiring knowledge.”
— Burton Rocks
By Lauren Martinek
Members of Phi Beta Kappa have been champions of the liberal arts since the founding of the Society. One of the ways that their love of learning expresses itself is in multifaceted careers that transcend traditional boundaries between jobs. Burton Rocks, author, sports agent, and member of Phi Beta Kappa, proves that a liberal arts mindset in one’s career can drive innovation.
Burton Rocks was born June 25, 1972, in New York City, the son of famed chemist Lawrence Rocks. No stranger to adversity, Rocks spent much of his childhood in hospitals due to life-threatening asthma attacks. During his many hospital stays, he learned lessons that he carried with him through his life. He talks about these in his TED Talk “Quantifying Life’s Intangibles” (November 16, 2015). One lesson was to be observant: he noticed at the age of six that a nurse had confused his medication dosage and spoke up to prevent an error. He learned that you always have to fight and persevere. This showed not only in constantly having to battle an illness, but also in his grandmother’s convincing his doctors to allow her to bring him home-cooked meals he could actually eat. Rocks also learned that so many of the life events that build a person’s character and define who they are as a person are intangible moments. He learned that metrics such as tests and IQ scores do not give the full story of a person. Such metrics are not enough, not to mention he had to be rushed to the hospital because of an asthma attack that started in the middle of his own IQ test.
Despite such an uncertain start and several code blue emergencies, Rocks excelled in his studies. He attended Stony Brook University for history, becoming a member of Phi Beta Kappa there in 1994, then Hofstra University Law School. Since then he has co-authored seven books, founded the C.L. Rocks Corporation sports agency, and has represented coaches and athletes of the MLB and NFL. He created a niche for himself combining the writing skills he developed as a student in Stony Brooks’ Honors College, his love of sports and sports history, as well as his attention for detail that started at a young age. Rocks' career combines sports, law, and memoir writing. Me and My Dad: A Baseball Memoir, co-authored with New York Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill, was a New York Times best seller and nominated for a Casey Award in 2003. In early 2018, Rocks negotiated the largest contract in baseball history for a major league player with less than one year service time for his client Paul DeJong.
Drawing from a life-long interest in how intangible moments develop character, Rocks developed a metric called the Quantifiable Intangibles. He explains QI well in an interview he gave WLNY-TV. It functions as a supplement to a resume or statistics for an athlete. The QI is where one would describe life experience that you would not put on a resume or show how you overcame adversity in your life. Rocks uses the QI to learn more about athletes or coaches, and then uses that information to make stronger teams. QI is a way to look at someone more holistically. It is a way to see how well rounded someone is, and QI is valuable in the way that liberal arts are valuable. Quantifiable Intangibles are about how people can have strengths in many different areas. Drawing from multiple fields builds character in an individual as well as creates dynamic teams.
Lauren Martinek is a senior at the State University of New York at Buffalo majoring in environmental studies. The University at Buffalo is home to the Omicron of New York Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
Photo credit: SUNY Stony Brook, John Griffin