I need to get this out-of-the-way. I don’t like Syracuse basketball. Most of this distain is it logical and routed in the fact that I went to college in upstate New York at a place that wasn’t Syracuse, so listening to unending idolatry of everything related to the Carrier Dome left an enduring Mark. Beyond that, there’s no real reason to not like the Orange, other than the reasons anyone chooses to dislike any sports program, especially a marquee one led by a long time established and imposing personality like head basketball coach Jim Boeheim.
So generally speaking, I’m happy when the Orange loses. It’s kind of like a win for me. There’s actually theory behind that, but I will spare you the sociology lesson. During the NCAA tournament, I’m generally rooting for the University of Florida and whoever is playing Syracuse. It is what it is. But Monday night, there was actually a compelling reason to root for the Orange. And it wasn’t simply because they were playing Duke, another one of America’s most despised elite basketball programs. And it wasn’t because Syracuse was the underdog playing on the road. It was because of a fan. A Syracuse fan, a species which I hold in relative low regard. And apologies. Before the game, Syracuse super booster Adam Weitsman tweeted that he would donate $150,000 to three Boys & Girls Clubs in upstate New York if Syracuse won. That number actually turned to $175,000, because apparently Weitsman inadvertently forgot one club location. It wasn’t as if he was expecting to pay, as the number one ranked Blue Devils were heavy favorites over a rebuilding Syracuse program. But they won, and he will pay according to all reports. Which means that despite my frustration in Syracuse winning a game that could very well lead them towards an NCAA berth, it’s still hard not to be happy they won.
There’s a lot of side story to this, notably that Weitsman spent some time in prison for check fraud then went on to make millions while also apparently committing himself to a more just and philanthropic path. Monday’s gesture would seemingly continue that trend line. I’m sure there is a cynical way to look at this as well, none the least of which being the amount of influence money seems to bring to a sports fan, given that Weitsman has become a close personal friend of Coach Boeheim. If you’re looking for ways that can go wrong, just read footnotes on the University of Miami, or a bunch of other programs with big dollar boosters. But leaving the flipside of the story for another day, there is something heartwarming about a guy who is trying to do right, using something fun like a basketball win to donate money to the Boys and Girls Club.
Which leads us to the obvious idea – sport as a spark for philanthropy. This isn’t a new idea at all, especially around participatory sports. There are more cause related running clubs than you can list – you probably know this because you’ve been asked to give. In some cases, raising money is a way to get into a race that’s hard to enter – like the New York City Marathon. Certainly, professional athletes are philanthropic. Like say LeBron James, whose family foundation does everything from building a charter school to funding a Muhamad Ali exhibit at the Smithsonian. And leagues and teams and sporting goods companies have charitable arms that do a lot of good things. So giving money to a Boys & Girls Club in the name of athletics is fairly standard fair.
But what if were more common than that. What if big time athletic boosters, instead of giving money to the football team, gave money to a local food bank. Or a homeless shelter. Or a swimming pool or a YMCA every time their team did something great. What if fandom wasn’t simply unadulterated love of a bunch of really good athletes, but also a way to use sport as a great fiscal equalizer. What if every game had a donor wall or a giant mitzvah box – apologies for the Sunday School reference. What if Adam Weitsman weren’t an anomaly but standard practice. Wouldn’t that make us all like sport just a little more?
For the record, I’d still hate Syracuse basketball.
Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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