The power of philanthropy
By Glenda Graves
Photos by Meredith Mashburn
Danyelle Sargent Musselman is much more than just the first lady of Arkansas Basketball. Our community is lucky to have her unique talents and passions.
Born in St. Louis, Danyelle moved around a lot as she was growing up due to her father’s job with the Ford Motor Company. She went to high school just outside Atlanta, where her mother still lives and works as a labor and delivery nurse. “I hated moving around so much as a child,” says Danyelle. “But it turned out that it was such an advantage to me, especially after marrying Eric.”
Danyelle is the oldest of three children, with a brother and sister. She laughs and says that her mom is quick to remind her that she was the one who gave them the hardest time about moving around as a child, and yet she is the one who has moved around the most as an adult.
For the love of the game
When it came time for college, she began thinking she wanted to go to film school. “I didn’t want to go too far away from home, but I also didn’t want to go too close. I picked Florida State. It was about a four-hour drive from home and I really loved being there. It was where I really fell in love with college football. My dad was always a basketball and baseball fan, but we hadn’t really gotten into football,” she says. “I truly fell in love with the sport and realized I wanted to get involved with broadcasting.”
She began working at ESPN,in what she describes as “a very low level,” while still in college. After being involved with that for a while, she says, “I knew it was what I wanted to do. My mom was happy that I had found something that I was so passionate about. She’s not really a big sports fan, but she understood it was important to me.”
After college, she thought she would easily jump into a job at ESPN. But, as she says, “I was sending out VHS tapes to everyone. I ended up getting a job with CNN working behind the scenes as a production assistant in the sports division. A year later I finally got my first job on TV as a sports anchor in Macon, Georgia. It was only an hour drive to my mom from there. I stayed there for a year, and then I moved to Kansas City for two years before getting a job with ESPN.”
After working at ESPN for two years, she went on to work with Fox Sports from 2006-2011. It was during this time that she met Eric Musselman. She was a guest speaker on a sports and media panel, and Eric was in the audience. “He always said he wanted to come and talk to me, but he never did,” she laughs. “But we ended up sitting at the same table and had the chance to have a very good conversation. I thought he was so nice.” He later asked for her phone number, and she gave it.
“We started talking on the phone, and then he invited me to come out to the Bay area,” she says. “I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, so I decided to go. I think we have talked on the phone every single day since then… and that was 12 years ago. It was pretty instant.” The two married in 2009, and in 2010 their daughter, Mariah, was born.
She says she knew Eric’s goal was to coach at the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) level, and that the idea was always in the back of their minds.The two were living very happily in Reno, Nevada, when Coach Musselman got the call from the Arkansas Razorbacks.
“Mariah was a third grader at the time,” says Danyelle, “and she burst into tears when she found out we were moving. She didn’t want to leave her friends. But then we came to the Arkansas press conference and it was a whirlwind. She met two little girls in our neighborhood that day and she has been fine ever since. She has never had friends in the same neighborhood where she could just ride bikes and play outside – and she loves it.”
Danyelle knew very little about Arkansas at the time, even though her father was originally from Magnolia. “My mom says that we visited [the state] once when I was young, though I didn’t remember it,” she says. Yet she knew several people who had either lived in or visited Northwest Arkansas and had nothing but positive things to say.
For the love of community
Danyelle started getting involved in the community while living in Reno. “You do one event, and then it sort of snowballs. But most of what I have been involved with are the things that have impacted my life personally,” she says – issues such as diversity and inclusion, family and heart disease.
Danyelle lost her father to a heart attack when she was just 18 years old. Then, 12 years ago, she herself suffered a stroke. Her younger sister suffered from congestive heart failure and ended up needing a heart transplant. Heart disease has been a difficult and personal journey for Danyelle; it was also her reason for getting involved with the American Heart Association in Reno.
After leaving Nevada, Danyelle hoped for an opportunity to continue her philanthropic work. Luckily, the two organizations she was highly involved in — Coaches vs. Cancer with the American Cancer Society and the Make-a-Wish Foundation — were thrilled to welcome her to their Northwest Arkansas chapters. She now sits on the board of directors for the Make-a-Wish Foundation and, as the national co-chair for Coaches vs. Cancer, is looking forward to growing the American Cancer Society’s presence in Northwest Arkansas.
And it’s not just these large-scale, national nonprofits that Danyelle has contributed to. She is also a spokesperson for the Community Cohesion Project in Northwest Arkansas. The CCP was created to improve understanding about cultural differences while also encouraging and celebrating diversity in the region.
“I thought back to when we were first moving here and wondered if people would accept our blended, multiracial family,” Danyelle says. “And we have felt completely accepted here. I want everyone to feel that way in Northwest Arkansas.”
Walmart, Procter & Gamble and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art joined forces to create the cohesion project – whose goal is to create a more inclusive environment for all through educational and wellness programs, cultural initiatives, dialogues, networking events and celebrations that recognize unique cultures.
“I think the core of this work is knowledge and discussion,” she adds. “I have lived so many different places and am so proud of the diversity of friends I have made.” She says that while the CCP is new, the interest that they have seen is impressive and she is excited about the progress they will make.
Danyelle encourages people within our community to make an effort to get to know someone who is different than them. “It’s easy to know your neighbor,” she says, “but you have to make an effort to know someone who is not in your income bracket or in your church. It’s important to make that effort.”
When it comes to Arkansas Razorback basketball, she says, “We strive to make the basketball team a family. It is an underlying theme with all our players and staff and their families. Basketball season runs through two main holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. I kind of feel like I’m the mom, which is why we got our house – so we could have them all over for Thanksgiving, which we did last year.”
Not only does the basketball team directly benefit from Danyelle and the Musselman family, but her dedication to the larger community also offers a window of hope to many who are struggling.
Through her civic engagement, advocacy and community organizing, we realize the true power of philanthropy to create a more healthy, equitable and quality life for all.