Gus Johnson gives back to Detroit with donation to youth football program
Detroit — On a field he said helped shape his life, Gus Johnson gave back.
Johnson, lead college football and basketball play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports with one of the most recognizable voices in the business, is a Detroit native who played youth football for the West Side Cubs before going to high school at UD Jesuit. After former Michigan linebacker Adam Shibley, founder of The Uniform Funding Foundation (TUFF), a non-profit launched in November 2018, reached out by email, Johnson wanted to do something significant for his hometown.
At McCabe Field, home of the West Side Cubs, a youth organization founded here in 1957, Johnson became the first TUFF “Hometown Hero” and donated $30,000, the largest donation in the organization’s history, toward the purchase of football uniforms, outfits for cheerleaders and a scoreboard. Fox Sports and Good Sports matched Johnson’s donation, and TUFF added $10,000 — $70,000 was collected to help supply the Cubs with all they need.
“This is my home,” Johnson said Saturday after the presentation. “I learned some of the best lessons of my life right here on that field. As a matter of fact, I got my nickname, Gus, right there, and it changed my life. This is my home. Detroit is my home. I love my city. I love the West Side Cubs, and it was an honor for me to do this. And more importantly, as I hear my father’s voice in my head, it’s what I’m supposed to do, and I’m late. I should have done this a long time ago.”
With Johnson’s donation, TUFF supplied 300 uniforms, including 200 for football with adidas jerseys and Xenith shoulder pads. The presentation also included Michigan linebacker Josh Ross and Michigan State cornerback Kalon Gervin, who were Cubs.
Shibley said he essentially made a cold call to Johnson via email.
“I wanted him to do it for his youth program, but he kept adding, ‘I want to do more, I want to do more,’ ” said Shibley, who has transferred to Notre Dame where he will play and work on his master’s degree. “He’s an unbelievable guy. He’s become a mentor for me, and he’s an amazing person. I’m beyond words because I never imagined we could do something this big, and I’m so excited for where the future of this foundation is going.”
TUFF made its first international donation on Saturday, as well, when soccer uniforms reached Liberia. Shibley said it was in large part to honor former Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye, who has been active in TUFF and is listed as “awareness curator” and is from there.
“The vision I had as a young sophomore at Michigan has doubled and tripled and it’s just coming to life,” said Shibley, who is working to add athletes and entertainers to donate to their communities.
Mazi Smith, a Michigan defensive lineman, was born in Detroit and grew up in Grand Rapids. He was one of the TUFF participants on Saturday.
“I spent half my young life in Detroit,” Smith said. “It was about giving back to the people where you come from. That’s important.”
Offensive lineman Andrew Stueber is from Connecticut but he has been active with TUFF.
“It’s definitely a sense of giving back to the community,” Stueber said. “I didn’t grow up here, but I know the struggle of a bunch of kids here and the struggle of finding uniforms. That’s a huge thing for me. I love bringing joy because they deserve all the stuff they should get, the jerseys, the scoreboards because at the end of the day, they want to play football.
“You want to be able to provide everything you can to make them play at the highest level and most enjoyment. So coming out here, giving back to a community I’ve spent four going on five years at Michigan is huge for me. I love seeing smiles on all the kids’ faces. I get a huge amount of humility and pride out of it.”
Johnson pointed toward the football field and it was there he went from his given name, Augustus, to “Gus” after his coach decided he needed a nickname.
“I had never been called Gus before,” Johnson said, as he pointed to the spot he was given his nickname. “Right there. See that little patch of grass?”
He called Shibley one of the “greatest young men” he has met and his association with TUFF won’t end here. Johnson was visibly moved during the presentation and while interacting with the kids and their families.
“It warms my heart,” Johnson said. “It makes me feel like I’m helping somebody like I got helped as a kid being a West Side Cub, going to the Boy’s Club, being a part of St. Cecelia, going to UD High, playing PAL, hockey at Jack Adams. People cared about me, and I want to show our kids there are people that care about them that come from right here, right where they come from.”