Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy looks to spread around smiles with foundation's launch

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy had just endured his first loss as quarterback for La Grange Park (Illinois) Nazareth Academy during his sophomore season, but patiently signed autographs.

A little girl offered her newspaper to be signed.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy this week launched the JJ for the Kids Foundation.

“She was like, ‘Hey, why did you look so mad out there? Why weren’t you having fun?’” McCarthy said this week.

McCarthy explained he hadn’t played well, and he was taking the team’s loss hard.

“And she said, ‘What does that matter? You’re playing football, shouldn’t you be having fun?’” he said.

The little girl, whose identity McCarthy doesn’t know, took the Sharpie he was using to sign autographs from his hand. She drew a smiley face on the back of his hand.

“I kept it on there for the rest of the season and we went undefeated,” McCarthy said. “I realized the deep meaning behind it is, no matter what you’re doing, as long as you’re having fun and you’re enjoying it and you’re present, that’s the path you need to be on. That’s what’s going to make you pretty much fulfilled in what you’re doing in life.

“As long as you’re having fun, that’s all that matters.”

McCarthy this week launched his JJ For the Kids Foundation, and that smiley face now adorns apparel, buttons and a rubber bracelet among other items. All proceeds from sales and donations will be distributed to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor and Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, near McCarthy’s hometown.

The items, which are maize and blue with some featuring his jersey No. 9, can be purchased on his site, www.jjforthekids.org, and also in-store at The M Den, which is handling the online order fulfillment.

This has been part of McCarthy’s vision for the future, but it came earlier than expected. With the allowance beginning last July for college athletes to profit off their “name, image and likeness,” or NIL as it’s referred, McCarthy already has donated nearly $11,000 to the Mott and Lurie hospitals. That total also includes donations to the Oxford fund for victims of the school shootings last year, as well as children’s hospitals in the cities where Michigan played games last fall.

“It’s definitely something that I’ve been wanting to do even before this whole NIL stuff started,” McCarthy said. “This is something I wanted to do once I reached a pro level and a pro salary and the ability to receive that kind of money to be able to good with it. How it’s been going with this NIL is just amazing. What an opportunity to be able to make this impact at such an early stage in my career.”

McCarthy is working on this project with the Valiant Management Group, a conduit for much of Michigan athletes’ NIL opportunities.

“It’s a passion project for us at Valiant,” Jared Wangler, founder of the Valiant Management Group, said of working with McCarthy and the foundation. “This is as good as it gets to work with J.J. and, obviously, it’s such a great cause. We’re more than excited to help out and be there where we can be.”

McCarthy, who will be a sophomore next football season and will compete for the starting quarterback job with Cade McNamara, also is motivated by the motto, “Dream Big." That is featured on the rubber bracelet for sale on his foundation site.

“The ‘Dream Big’ is letting every kid know that no matter what you dream for, as long as you work for it, it is a possibility and anything can happen,” McCarthy said. “A lot of the kids in this world don’t hear that enough, so if I can just put that in their ear in any way, then I know I’m doing a good cause.”

There are slides also being sold on the foundation site through the ISlide company. Each slide features “Dream Big” artwork produced by two young heart patients McCarthy got to know.

“I worked with two kids, Kate and Andre, who are struggling with a heart condition,” he said. “They got through it, which is good, but they still have appointments. They drew those pictures for the slides, and it was just perfect. They did an awesome job with that.”

McCarthy, who turned 19 on Thursday, hopes to see fans wearing “smiley face” items in Michigan Stadium this fall.

“It would be a great feeling to see that everyone is helping out for a good cause,” McCarthy said. “It goes beyond football at that point. It’s awesome for people to contribute to my motivation to make a better change in this world in any way possible. It would be really cool to see that from Michigan’s fan base. That’s just who they are and what I’ve felt so far is great positive energy and wanting to do good — that would be really special to see.”


Twitter: @chengelis