Michigan ideals helped lead Mayes to give back
Written by Matt Pargoff   

Over the weekend, former Michigan players gathered to help raise money for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital as part of the Griese-Hutchinson-Woodson Golf Outing. Among those who made the return to Ann Arbor was captain of the 1997 National Championship team Dr. Eric Mayes.

As the only participant to wear dress shoes out on the golf course, Mayes received his share friendly ribbing from his old teammates for his lack of a golf game, but for the former Michigan linebacker, it was contributing to the cause that really mattered.

“We would go over to the hospital when I was in college and it really put a lot of things in perspective,” he stated. “We would spend time over there and whatever trivial problems or issues that we had as student athletes, they meant almost nothing in comparison to the challenges that the children and the families were going through. It’s something that I learned to respect, appreciate and love when I was here.”

In 1997, following four consecutive four-loss seasons, Michigan surprised the college football world with an undefeated year and national championship. According to Dr. Mayes, many of the principles that went into the success of that team are the same as those embodied in the work with Mott.

“One of the things about our ’97 National Championship Team is that we talked about a mountain top experience,” he said. “About losing yourself or giving yourself to something greater than yourself: the team, the championship, the goal. And the partnership between athletics and Mott’s Children’s Hospital is an example of current and former athletes, staff, faculty and researchers losing themselves in something greater than the individual. That’s the beauty of it.”

After his time in Michigan, Mayes went on to earn his PhD from Howard University and he furthered his education beyond that at Harvard. However, the time he spent in Ann Arbor and his experiences as a member of the Michigan team proved invaluable as he went forward.

“There is so much that I have taken from my experience at Michigan,” explained Dr. Mayes. “When I was getting my PhD at Howard, on those difficult days and tough nights I would think back and say ‘I walked on and played at Michigan, we won a national championship, so I can do this.’ When I was at Harvard and I was nervous because no one that I knew from the community that I grew up in had ever gone to Harvard, I thought back to my time at Michigan and the values that I learned.

“When I was here, Lloyd [Carr] had a saying: ‘blame no one, expect nothing, and do something.’ That was huge for me. Those are principles that a lot of guys learn at Michigan and they really help them in their professional lives. One of those is to give back, invest in the community, invest in those that wish they could have the opportunities that you have. Or to provide those opportunities to children that didn’t know they even existed. It’s extremely important that Michigan engages in that kind of community service.”

Those ideals of giving back are something that have followed Mayes since his time in Ann Arbor. Currently, he teaches at both Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy, serves as a life coach and does motivational speaking. However, the passion in his voice is evident when discussing his role as Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund in the state of Michigan.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was started 40 years ago by Marian Wright Edelmon,” he explained. “She started the organization to advocate on behalf of children. Children don’t have a voice, they don’t have a vote, they normally don’t have income, and so at the state and federal level, who advocates on behalf of children. There’s very few people. So the Children’s Defense Fund has been advocating on behalf of children for the last four decades. There are a lot of laws on the books that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for CDF.

“Our goal is to make sure that every child in America has a level playing field. That they have a healthy start, a safe start, a moral start and a fair start from childhood to adulthood.”

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