Ex-Wolverine Charles Woodson gives $2 million to Mott Children's Hospital
Carlos Osorio | The Associated Press
The idea first occurred to Charles Woodson in May when he returned to Ann Arbor to play in a charity golf outing organized by some former University of Michigan teammates.
Woodson wanted to make an impact.
Not the kind the Pro Bowl cornerback would use to de-cleat a ball carrier, but one that would resonate beyond the football field.
When it came time to figure out how to best accomplish that goal, the decision was easy. Woodson was never one of the Wolverines who visited C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital on a weekly basis in college.
Regular visits weren’t needed to make an imprint in his mind.
“The few times I’ve been in a hospital like Mott, I think it chips away at you a little bit,” he said. “And it finally got through to me, you know?”
Later today, while Woodson plays with the Green Bay Packers against the Detroit Lions, the university will announce his $2 million donation to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
The money will go toward construction of a new hospital, scheduled to open in the fall of 2012, and create a fund that will help doctors conduct clinical research.
It is the first donation toward the $15 million needed to create space and purchase equipment for researchers doing early-stage work to help children with cancer, heart disease, kidney disorders and autism.
“He very much wants to be part of major discoveries in these areas, “ said Dr. Valerie Castle, who chairs the pediatric department in the University of Michigan health system.
“That’s the charge he’s given us. He expects these resources to really make a difference, and he expects us to make discoveries and this mission to be realized.”
Officials will name the lobby of the new hospital in Woodson’s honor.
Woodson, who won a Heisman Trophy at Michigan and led the Wolverines to a national championship in 1997, hasn’t lived in Ann Arbor for 12 years.
The fact he could have donated to a number of other places he has called home isn’t lost on those close to him.
“This is just a special connection here,” Woodson said. “You know, it was probably the best three years of my life here, other than my son, and when I think about those days here, it’s a big part of my life.
“Michigan is always fresh in my mind. Coming back for the tournaments, visiting the hospital, this just seemed like the right thing to do.”
When Woodson garnered national attention as a football prospect at Fremont's Ross High School in Ohio, most schools wanted him to play running back in college, the same position that earned him Mr. Ohio honors.
Woodson wanted to play cornerback.
“I remember asking him why,” former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “He said, ‘Well, I want to play in the NFL, and I can have, from a longevity standpoint, a longer career as a defensive back than a tailback.’”
After playing for the Oakland Raiders for eight seasons - a point at which most NFL running backs are washed up - Woodson signed a seven-year, $52.7 million contract with the Green Bay Packers.
Foresight paid off.
Now, he’s looking ahead again.
Carlos Osorio | The Associated Press
Memories of his Mott visits as a college player surfaced in January, when his son, Charles Junior, was born. Blessed with a healthy baby, he thought of parents who are not as fortunate.
“For parents who go to the hospital and get news that is devastating to their child’s life, at some point, you want them to go in and say, ‘Well, we found a cure for that,’” Woodson said.
“What they do here at Mott is special, and they’ve been doing it for a long time, and I want to be part of that future.”
His donation will house an area where doctors can send patients to have blood samples drawn, a place where specimens and equipment can be stored and support investigators researching incurable diseases.
Approximately 195 people work in the pediatric department, according to Castle, and about half could potentially use the space and funds to conduct research.
Castle is not only grateful for the Woodson’s gift, but for the eagerness with which he’s been involved in the details of the project. Without it, the new Mott Children’s Hospital may not otherwise have started toward the $15 million project.
“I was asked a question earlier today, that it seems unbelievable you’d have this beautiful facility being built and a nice facility here, ‘You really don’t have the space and equipment and freezers and place to send patients?” Castle said. “The fact is, we don’t have it.
“We’ve started purchasing equipment and renovating space. It (Woodson’s gift) will definitely get us off the ground. But you know, a gift of that size gives you a tremendous amount of momentum.”
LEAVING A LEGACY
Woodson grew up in Fremont, approximately 25 miles southeast of Toledo. His mother, Georgia, drove a forklift at American National Can and often worked two jobs to support the family.
She also gave, whether the she had money in her pockets or not.
“I mean, anything,” Woodson said. “Money, food, clothes. Anything, you know? She picked people up, took them to church, all that stuff.”
Images of his mother helping others stuck with Woodson. Those memories help drive him today.
At age 33, he knows his days as an NFL cornerback are numbered. He still feels like he’s in good shape and can contend with the best players in the league.
But he laughs when someone suggests he might play until he’s 40. There’s no timetable for his retirement, but when he thinks of his future, he envisions spending a lot of time with his wife and son, as well as spending a lot of time at Mott.
“This is not something that I’ll be here today and gone tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll be a part of it for the rest of my life.”
For all Woodson’s success on the football field at Michigan, Carr says the donation will rank right up their with his Heisman Trophy and national championship.
“There’s a lesson here for all of us at Michigan that this guy came back here to make a difference,” Carr said. “Beyond even our program, I think it sends a great message to NFL players, to high school players, and I think it will have a significant influence across the athletic world.
“All the things he did here as a player,” Carr said. “Now his legacy is also going to be, for every player who comes here, they’re going to know what this guy gave back.”