A New Scholarship Fund at Cal is a Little Personal

With all the garbage on television to pick from, I’m pretty loose when it comes to my 13-year old son watching SportsCenter.

Last week was different. I had to get him to turn it off. Sports. Off. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to shelter him from all the ugly news. It was that I was sick of it after the third or fourth or fifth cycle. He plays baseball on a select team, so I’m not hiding that professional and even college athletes are not perfect, any more than the rest of us. We talk about steroids, cheating, the abysmal male athlete graduation record at my alma mater, Cal, bad sportsmanship, you name it.

But last night – alleged domestic violence, child abuse, immature and boorish behavior, more mentions of the exempt list than I’ve heard in my entire life. I was done.

IMG_1399Tomorrow, the University of California Berkeley – Cal – will issue a press release announcing that former San Francisco Giants second baseman Jeff Kent has created the Jeff Kent Women Driven Scholarship Endowment.

The Jeff Kent Women Driven Scholarship Endowment continues a quiet legacy he began in 1998 when he created with the Giants the Jeff Kent Women Driven. Women Driven donated $500 per RBI for an annual scholarship fund for female athletes at Cal in seven sports. He’s since also funded the building of new batting cages and supported baseball at Cal in other ways, including when the athletic department announced it was dropping the baseball program along with several other sports. But his legacy will be around women’s sports.

In 1998, Jeff drove in 128 runs totaling $115,000 for female athletes at Cal. The fund eventually contributed close to $600,000 for scholarships. Like the amount raised in the original Women Driven fund, today’s contribution is significant. $681,000. That’s the number required to fully fund an endowed scholarship. One that will provide a free ride for a female athlete each year. In perpetuity. Significant. For women’s athletics. Cal’s announcing it. Jeff’s funding it. He approached the University with this gift. His commitment qualifies for a $100,000 match, given by donors who also believed in the value of supporting sports for women at Cal.

Jeff and his wife have three sons. But their firstborn is a daughter. Having a little girl fueled Jeff to do something different from the programs most other professional male athletes support. So he turned his attention to women’s sports, believing that while the opportunities for women to become professional athletes, especially at the time, were slim to none, the experiences they took from sports – leadership, focus, commitment, teamwork – would, and have been proven in studies, make them better leaders and more successful in life. And as a walk-on athlete who didn’t earn a full scholarship until his final year, Jeff knew well how tough it is to make ends meet at Cal. Now someone else won’t know how tough it can be.

I’m sharing this story because it’s personal. I helped Jeff support the fund by running an annual golf tournament for a number of years. And most recently I got involved again by brokering the terms of the fund along with Jeff. I did it because I graduated from Cal, and while I didn’t play sports at that level, I paid for the majority of my education myself. So I can understand what it’s like to not be able to “call home” for money regularly. My role has been small, but I’m sharing this news because I am proud to have been involved.

It remains to be seen whether the sports reporting world will pick up on this story. The timing wasn’t planned. In fact it overshadows the incredible things that athletes do every day. How they give back. But I hope Jeff gets the recognition he deserves – but doesn’t desire – for supporting women to get an education and go on to be “a professional somebody.”

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