How former Michigan linebacker Adam Shibley tackles inequities in sports

Photo by Zahria Jordan.
Adam Shibley is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan who spent his time as a Wolverine proudly representing the maize and blue on the football field. While he studied Communications and Media in the classroom, during his free time, he was passionately working towards addressing the inequities that underserved student athletes face. Shibley’s activism focused on a problem that he saw many student-athletes undergo, but personally never experienced: the limited access underserved athletes have to resources such as uniforms and mentorship.

Shibley possessed two valuable attributes that allowed him to make a change. First, he recognized that socioeconomic barriers inhibited student-athletes from excelling, and second, as a football player at a world-class football program and a student at a top public university, he was uniquely positioned to make a change.

“One day, in high school, I was on my way home and saw a group of kids in the street fundraising for their football season. I remember thinking how unfair it was that I played the same game as these boys, but never had to worry about equipment or fees. That experience stuck with me, and when I was at UMich, I knew I had the platform to make a change in the lives of student-athletes like the boys I saw in the streets of Cleveland,” Shibley said.

From the desire to create a change came Shibley’s founding of what is now a leading nonprofit organization for student athletes: The Uniform Funding Foundation, or TUFF for short. The TUFF Team consists of six Michigan football players and is backed by a board of directors that are well-respected figures in the sports industry, such as Gus Johnson and Maria Taylor. TUFF provides uniforms, equipment and mentorship to underserved athletes, and since its launch has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on student athletes nationally.

“Since the establishment of TUFF, we have helped over 4,100 underserved student-athletes through donating over $250,000 in equipment to sports programs across the country and providing student-athletes with mentors,” Shibley said.

Shibley attributes the success of his organization to those around him who believed in his idea, specifically his mentors at the University. To establish TUFF, Shibley went through an idea incubator at the University, optiMize, that focuses on social change. Through optiMize, Shibley worked with mentors to flesh out the foundation of TUFF. At the end of the program, Shibley pitched TUFF to the optiMize board and they awarded him a $5,000 grant. Shibley used the $5,000 to make TUFF’s first donation: uniforms for the Garden Valley Falcons football team in Cleveland, Ohio. Those student athletes were the first of many to experience a donation day sponsored by TUFF.

“Our donation days are highly energetic and emotional days for both the athletic programs we are donating to and the board at TUFF. Before the donation day, the TUFF Team works with coaches to plan the day, keeping it a secret from the student-athletes. The day of, we attend the team’s practice and give a TUFF Talk, our motivational speeches, then gift the equipment to the team. It is heartwarming to see the genuine excitement and appreciation of the athletes when we give them the uniforms, and to know that we are positively impacting the athletes,” Shibley said.

TUFF has donated to athletic programs in which the athletes are sharing cleats or have been wearing the same uniforms for 20+ years. With each donation made, TUFF alleviates socioeconomic stressors placed on disadvantaged athletic programs, and in doing so allows student-athletes to focus on the game. Although TUFF’s visible contribution can be measured through monetary donations and the number of student-athletes being served, its true impact extends beyond that. TUFF’s work is centering a conversation on social issues of race and class, revealing the structural issues that impact student-athletes. At its core, TUFF is an organization motivated by social justice and building communities to uplift others.

The University prides itself on developing and empowering change-makers — students who will grow into leaders that question and challenge inequities. In the case of Shibley, he is a successful product of the Michigan difference and a true testament to what it means to be a Wolverine. As Shibley leaves behind Michigan to pursue a Masters of Management at Notre Dame, he leaves with him a legacy defined by serving others and a message for other Wolverines.

“I went to a Jesuit high school, and our motto was to be men for others. For that reason, I have always been drawn to service and putting others first. My work with TUFF has made me appreciate and love service even more. I have come to understand that what resources children have is all based on luck. We all have it within us to make a change in our own lives, as well as in others, if we just start with the belief that the task at hand is not too big,” Shibley said.

* Donations to TUFF can be made here!



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