When Charitable Gift America contacted junior gymnast Baleigh Garcia about pursuing a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deal, one thing stuck out to her: They wanted to include all 19 members of the Michigan State gymnastics team.
“They were interested in me first and then they asked me to reach out to a few teammates and then they had explained we really want to incorporate all of your teammates because of the difference that we've made last year with our program and the standard we set. So they just wanted to include all of us in helping to make a change in different areas and donate,” Garcia said.
Charitable Gift America, a charitable organization founded by former MSU baseball player Thomas Dieters, announced the deal in August.
Contracts were awarded to the gymnasts through the organization’s fund, This is Sparta!, which also has individual agreements with MSU football and baseball players. As part of the NIL agreement, gymnasts are required to give 5% of their contracts to a charity of their choice.
“Being a former Spartan student-athlete, it gives me great pleasure to not only assist these current student athletes financially, but also impact charitable organizations around the nation,” Dieters said in a press release.
No other women’s gymnastics teams have been offered team-wide NIL contracts, making this deal the first of its kind in the NCAA. Only a few have received full-team deals across all collegiate sports.
“Everybody's not getting these team deals,” Head Coach Mike Rowe said. “The fact that my team was chosen (for) everybody (to) participate in this I couldn't be more proud and more happy for them.”
Sophomore gymnast Skyla Schulte said the team was shocked to learn it was one of the first teams in the nation to receive a deal of this size.
“I think that was a really special feeling for everybody because we're like, ‘wow, we had a great season last year and now people are going to recognize this as a team getting the NIL deal,” Schulte said. “I think that was really special.”
For her charity, Garcia picked an organization close to home: Place of Hope, a non-profit that works to end cycles of child abuse and neglect, located in Palm Beach County Florida.
The reason behind Garcia’s donation is personal to her and her family since they adopted her younger sister through the organization.
“We adopted her when she was eight months and she's now 13 years old,” Garcia said. “I just wanted to dedicate a donation to her because without Place of Hope, we wouldn't have found her and given her a better life and given her a great family.”
Schulte said she chose to donate to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation and the National Leiomyosarcoma Foundation to honor her grandma, who suffered a brain aneurysm and her best friend’s mom, who passed away from leiomyosarcoma cancer.
“It just feels so good to give back to something that means so much to me,” Schulte said. “It just means a lot to my heart and my mom and my best friend.”
Rowe said community outreach is important to the program and this deal goes hand-in-hand with those goals.
“Giving them the freedom to actually choose who they gave their (5%) to I thought was really cool,” Rowe said. “We're getting to know them even more when it comes to philanthropy.”
The future and working to destigmatize the program after a successful season
Last season, MSU gymnastics finished 13-4 overall, second in Big Ten and ninth in the country.
Garcia said the gymnastics team works hard to change the stigma surrounding the program by holding themselves to a higher standard and that this NIL deal helps them do so.
“For an organization like Charitable Gift America to notice the change that we are trying to make and they want to help us continue to make changes in different aspects of the world, it really means a lot to all of us and we're really honored,” Garcia said.
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Regarding the future of NIL for MSU gymnastics, Garcia said the agreement with Charitable Gift America might attract other deals but also work to destigmatize the program.
“We are out in the world making a better difference, not just in athletics, but (in) charities and donating,” Garcia said.
Schulte added this deal helps the gymnasts showcase their work ethic and willingness to donate while allowing them to give back during their busy schedules.
“Sometimes it's really hard to give back when you're doing all of this during the day … so being able to give back to the charities that you want, I think it's a very heartwarming thing.”
Rowe said Athletic Director Alan Haller is a key player in “spreading the love” and ensuring equality among men’s and women’s teams at the university when it comes to NIL agreements, most recently with deals for the women’s basketball and volleyball teams.
“Now (deals) are trickling down and being guided towards the Olympic sports and I think that's wonderful,” Rowe said.
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