Sadly, 2011 has been a year of destruction in the United States and across the world. An earthquake and tsunami caused massive devastation in Japan, and tornadoes have destroyed countless homes in the Southern and Midwestern United States.
In the wake of such tragedies, college football may seem like a small matter. Who cares about a game when lives have been torn apart? Well, the people of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, care. Football is bringing a broken community together, thanks in large part to University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, whose recovery efforts serve as an example for athletes and coaches who want to make a real difference in their communities.
College football is practically a religion in the South. Due to the sport’s popularity, Saban is well-known in the area. Birmingham News sportswriter Doug Segrest called Saban “the most visible guy in the state of Alabama.”
Saban knows how to effectively leverage that visibility for the good of the community, especially during a tragedy. On Friday, Saban and his wife, Terry, announced that their foundation, Nick’s Kids, would donate $50,000 to a newly formed tornado relief initiative called Project Team Up.
Countless coaches and athletes manage charitable foundations and step forward to donate time, money and resources in the wake of crises. However, from a public relations standpoint, Saban’s contributions rise above the rest thanks to his concrete approach.
In our J452 class, we’ve been reading Chip and Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick,” which examines six principles of impactful, lasting ideas. One chapter describes how concrete examples and ideas break through abstraction and become easier to understand.
Saban’s approach demonstrates this concept. Rather than coming to the public with an abstract idea like “raise money for tornado relief,” Saban conveyed a concrete message. When appearing on behalf of Nick’s Kids and Project Team Up in Holt, Alabama, on Friday, he stood on the concrete (no pun intended!) foundation of Teddy and Rosie Rowe’s home. The tornado destroyed their house, and they will be direct recipients of Saban’s donation. By associating his gift with a specific family, he showed Alabamans that he was not just throwing money at the problem but that he was committed to real people with real needs.
He garnered praise from local media for the sincerity of his contribution. Birmingham News sportswriter Segrest and Kevin Scarbinsky, a columnist at the same paper, discussed their thoughts on Saban’s donation. “He’s not this coaching terminator that so many people have portrayed him as,” Scarbinsky noted. “He’s a real human being.”
Scarbinsky also noted that Saban’s message assumed an air of freshness and credibility. Media may think Saban repeats the same soundbites about football, but “this (the Project Team Up donation) sounds very fresh, it sounds heartfelt, it sounds very real.”
Other notable coaches and athletes can take a lesson from Saban about concretely conveying charitable actions. His announcement took place on the foundation of a home that his gift would help rebuild. He connected with specific people in his community. His actions were genuine but not over the top. As a result, media took notice and praised his efforts.
Saban is committed to supporting Tuscaloosa well after his donation is spent. He wants the football season to serve as another form of aid for recovering Alabamans. “Hopefully, an indirect thing – a football game – will lead to a direct thing: more help for Tuscaloosa,” he told Sports Illustrated. Thanks to his efforts, it’s very likely that help will come.
Photo credit: Izzy Gould, Birmingham News Tuscaloosa Bureau