Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Athletes Return the Favor

A recent article in the New York Times shed light on a topic often assumed but less often discussed - athletes showing love to their alma mater. While Universities consider campaigning for wealthy alumni’s help to finance their efforts – particularly in athletics – it’s not as often you hear about famous athletes giving back to the schools that helped their rise to superstardom. That may be changing.

Recently, Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green gave $3.1 million to Michigan State’s athletic department, a massive sum and one of the largest amounts ever given by an athlete. Green is not alone. The Times reported that Miami Dolphins tackle Ndamukong Suh gave Nebraska $2.6 million from his first NFL contract. Also, Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson offered $5 million to the University of Illinois at Chicago, an amount totaling roughly half the Flames’ budget for a new baseball stadium. Saints QB Drew Brees has made two seven-figure donations to his alma mater, Purdue.

Green told the Times his gift was a thank you. “I went to Michigan State as a boy, a boy who really didn’t know where life was going to take me, really my own identity. I left Michigan State a man.” From a public relations perspective, having a famous athlete as an alumnus is a gift that gives both ways. Sure, like Green, most of the young men who come in as talented freshmen athletes are relatively clueless about life and all its various opportunities.

They bring with them drive, determination, and untapped opportunity. As life on campus teaches them lessons, they need to learn to move to the next stage in life, their efforts on the field or floor put butts in the seats and money in the coffers. Education and opportunity for fame and notoriety. It’s a fair trade. Then, a fortunate few athletes go on to huge paydays in professional sports.

Paydays that would not have been possible except for the opportunity to shine they had in college athletics. Many realize the connection, and more are saying “thanks” for their big opportunities with signatures on big checks.