As a college or professional athlete, you deal with a lot. Fans can quickly forget that you are a real person and not a caricature to be scrutinized.
Then, just as quickly as fans cast you aside for a poor performance, they embrace you for a job well done – on or off the field. As frustrating as that is, it’s a phenomenon can be leveraged for so much good.
University of Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich took full advantage of that this past month, recognizing that he could use his platform to help a charity. He wanted to make a difference and thought through what set him apart from others.
“The one thing I really had that a lot of people don’t have is the long hair,” he said. “It’s very noticeable (and) it’s very divisive. It’s a hot topic. I figured there would be some really cool things we could do to help kids in need.”
After careful consideration — Winovich chose The ChadTough Foundation as his beneficiary, a nonprofit with Michigan roots. Chad Carr, the grandson of former University of Michigan football head coach Lloyd Carr, passed away in November 2015 after a 14-month battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). The ChadTough Foundation raises research dollars and awareness for pediatric brain tumors with an emphasis on DIPG, a disease with a 0-percent survival rate that desperately needs attention.
The ChadTough Foundation is a cause near and dear to my heart and I am proud to serve as the foundation’s Director of Communications. Please visit chadtough.org to learn more about Chad’s story and DIPG.
Winovich started a fundraiser on Crowdrise, stating that he would dye his hair orange for the Outback Bowl if $15,000 was raised for ChadTough. That happened in 13 hours. Soon, other players and coaches joined in the effort, setting lofty goals like $38,500, $73,000, $100,000, and $125,000.
The initiative ended up raising more than $200,000 for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Initiative at Michigan Medicine, where Jason and Tammi Carr chose to have the funds directed. That total will also be matched by University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser.
So, in all, more than $400,000 was raised for pediatric brain tumor research and these players had orange hair for the Outback Bowl, which resulted in national TV coverage for the cause.
This is something every athlete with a platform should take advantage of. It’s impactful, selfless, and fun.
Here is what Winovich did right:
1. He Did Something Newsworthy
Raising money for a charity is great – plenty of people do it – but Winovich thought through what would make him different and, therefore, generate news coverage. He saw the potential in doing something with his hair and embraced it.
If he had simply posted a fundraiser to raise $15,000 for ChadTough, would it have worked? Perhaps, but it wouldn’t have had the same newsworthy element as dying his hair orange.
2. He Rallied Others
Players that joined the initiative said (during the hair dying, actually) that they never thought the money raised would reach the levels it did. Boy, were they surprised.
It is a fantastic example of how excited fans get when they see athletes doing something selfless.
It’s like the quarterback in football: he is criticized too much when the team loses and praised too much when the team wins. It’s not “fair,” but it’s a phenomenon more athletes — especially the high profile ones — can take advantage of.
3. He Was Genuinely Excited and Involved
Winovich’s excitement for this fundraiser was infectious. He wanted to help and it showed. Choosing a cause that speaks to your heart is just as important as choosing a cause at all. If you aren’t into it, it won’t be as effective.
He was also involved. You may pick the best cause out there, but if you hand it off to someone else without putting your personal stamp on it, it won’t be as great as it could be.
Winovich recorded videos for social media, engaged fans and influencers on Twitter and Instagram, and made himself available for interviews. He did all the right things.
Making A Difference Matters
Winovich, his teammates, and his coaches (count head coach Jim Harbaugh who fully supported this initiative) who participated in this fundraiser had fun with it and probably have no idea what kind of impact they made on the Carr family, who struggles through the holidays without Chad.
They also have no idea the impact they made on the DIPG community, which desperately needs this kind of attention.
This was a win all the way around and it’s something every athlete can participate in. Not every player can put something together that will catch the attention of the mainstream media, but every player has the benefit of social media and influence.
Even if your initiative begins as a grassroots effort on social media, watch it take off if you do all the right things like Chase Winovich did. Make videos, engage fans, and really believe in and have fun with what you’re doing.
It’s one of the best things about being an athlete — embrace it.