AAC Offers Razorback Athletes a Way to Benefit the Community
By Steve Andrews | Photos courtesy of Athlete Advocate Consortium
Bryan Hunt said the idea came about almost by accident, but now the concept of the Athlete Advocate Consortium is in full bloom, helping to partner University of Arkansas student-athletes with nonprofit organizations throughout Northwest Arkansas.
Hunt, class of 1983 U of A alumnus and donor to the Razorback Foundation, is the son of Johnelle Hunt and the late J.B. Hunt, founders of Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services. Using the guidelines that now allow compensation to college athletes through the NIL — Name, Image and Likeness — he and his wife, Mandy, initiated the AAC as a way to assist athletes financially while the athletes dedicate themselves to an organization in need.
Rozorback athlete signees with Mandy and Bryan Hunt at the AAC Signing Day at JJ's Live in Fayetteville on Aug. 1
“It’s kind of a brainchild of us trying to figure out how we can get these tremendous athletes connected with some of these great nonprofit organizations here in Northwest Arkansas,” Hunt said. “So many of these organizations are growing to help our community, and their needs just increase annually. So, we decided to take one of these student-athletes and match them up with a community service leader and see if we can make this work.”
The athletes use their enormous social media following and make personal appearances to raise money for their nonprofit partner. The AAC has set up financial links to these organizations, in which 100% of the proceeds go to that organization.
They began with one initial partnership last year, connecting Razorback basketball player JD Notae with Debbie Rambo at the Samaritan Community Center, a food pantry and soup kitchen in Northwest Arkansas. Notae helped raise more than $50,000, which is now helping to fund construction of a new facility for the organization in Rogers.
“It was just important to me because I didn’t have a lot while I was growing up, so I just wanted to give back to my community,” said Notae, who is now a rookie with the Golden State Warriors NBA team. “It felt special in the moment last year, but I really didn’t understand how big it was until now and seeing how many people it really affects. It feels great to know that you are a part of starting something that is going to get bigger and bigger, and something good that can help so many people.”
The Hunts have worked closely with Terry Prentice, the U of A’s senior associate athletics director for athlete brand development and inclusive excellence, making sure everything complies with NCAA rules. Head basketball coach Eric Musselman is also an advocate, proud that his program can now benefit the community off the court.
“I think this is a really unique opportunity for our guys to give back to the community,” Musselman said. “I think it teaches them some life lessons of getting involved in charitable organizations, which helps in building character and responsibility.”
Having such success with Notae, the AAC has opted to expand support to three organizations this year and announced the recipients at a signing gala at JJ’s Live in Fayetteville on Aug. 1.
Local nonprofit partnership representatives Debbie Rambo with Samaritan Center, Terri Trotter with The Jones Center and Elizabeth Shackelford with Children's Safety Center at AAC Signing Day on Aug. 1
Bryan and Mandy Hunt
The Samaritan Community Center will again be supported, this year by Razorback basketball player Jalen Graham, a recent transfer from Arizona State. Incoming freshman Jordan Walsh has been partnered up with The Jones Center, a regional resource for youth and family recreation programming in Springdale. And the third recipient is the Children’s Safety Center of Washington County, which has partnered with the entire Arkansas basketball team.
“Growing up, I was raised with high morals and the importance of giving back to your community,” said Walsh, a Texas native who just arrived on campus this summer. “As soon as I got on campus, I knew that I had to find a way to get immersed in the culture and try to make a difference here. I got in touch with the right people who connected me with the AAC, and the rest is history.”
The AAC’s contracts with the athletes are not exclusive, thus allowing the athletes to work out additional NIL agreements with other companies or organizations. Several Razorback athletes, in all sports, have announced deals with numerous companies paying them for their NIL rights since the rule was instituted July 1, 2021. But the AAC model is unique because the focus is not on monetizing college athletes, but rather creating funding for the organizations they engage with.
The AAC is its own entity and does not fall under the auspices of J.B. Hunt Transport Services, and Hunt assures its mission is strictly to benefit the athletes and the nonprofit organizations.
“The creation of AAC is not and never will be about personal financial or taxation gains for us,” he said. “This is all about promoting and assisting community nonprofits through the usage of student-athletes as their advocates.”
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