When Ohio State offensive lineman Harry Miller was in middle school, he took a mission trip to Nicaragua with a church group from suburban Atlanta.
It left a lasting impression. Getting a glimpse of the country’s extreme poverty, he was inspired to return and provide further aid.
“As a kid in America, you don't really appreciate how good it is until you go someplace else and you see plastic houses made of scrap cardboard and wood and tin and plastic sheeting that are basically one room with dirt floors and maybe a bed, maybe not,” said his mother, Kristina, who accompanied him.
Over the past seven years, Miller has traveled nearly a dozen times to Nicaragua on similar trips. He brought along teammate Tommy Eichenberg as recently as last year, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
So as it became permissible this month for college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness, Miller had an idea. He started an online pop-up store selling t-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps that feature a logo of his personal brand. The logo includes the letter “H” within a curved shield.
Football player's logo clothing sales to help children in Nicaragua
All of the proceeds from the sales will be donated to Mission for Nicaragua, a nonprofit for which Miller is one of five board members and which was formed by members of Miller's church group. They continue to provide food, medicine and other resources for children at a school in Los Brasiles, Nicaragua. It’s his only NIL-related pursuit for the time being due to football demands and academic commitments as a mechanical engineering major.
“I’m tremendously fortunate to have good friends, a good family support system, clothes, food,” Miller said. “I have my guitars and my books, so there's not really much else I'm looking to buy. The reality is that the money can get stretched a lot further for a lot more people, and therefore, it's the most utilitarian thing to do. It would be uncouth of me to not take note of that, especially for a community that's been so supportive of me for upwards of a decade now. They deserve it.”
Miller has formed a bond with children at the school over previous trips. He’s played soccer with them. They’ve danced together.
Many members of the community accompanied mission teams as those teams undertook projects like home construction and food distribution, Miller said, and he cherishes the special moments that ended up creating.
Before the lifting of NIL restrictions, Miller would have likely needed a waiver from the NCAA to fundraise for the organization, similar to how former Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence did last year when he set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for coronavirus relief.
Instead, the philanthropic effort came together in a matter of days without the need to jump through many hoops. Miller already had a copy of a personalized brand logo. It had been made by Sammy Silverman, a former creative media director at Ohio State, who designed it as part of a branding presentation on one of Miller’s visits to campus as a high school recruit.
On July 1, the first day players were permitted to use their NIL, his mother passed along the logo to a vendor to make merchandise. There were a few style choices to settle on. (They picked blue, because it's the primary color of the Nicaraguan flag.) But the online store went up the following day.
“This was really almost overnight,” Kristina said.
New NIL rules made it easy
Miller felt it was “unbelievably helpful” that so few steps were required to establish the shop.
“It's a nuisance that it would be such trouble to just help people,” Miller said. “You would think that you could do this pretty simply. Any civilian could put up a GoFundMe or share something on their social media about a cause they want to support, but because I play a sport, it got tainted, saying is this sketchy?”
With the previous NCAA rules limitations, Miller spent little time thinking about fundraising for the nonprofit as a college athlete.
Kristina said they had discussed donating a part of his salary if Miller went on to play in the NFL, and he does have a promising future in football. A former five-star recruit, Miller started at left guard last fall and is expected to step in at center this upcoming season, replacing Josh Myers, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in April.
But the arrival of the NIL era in college sports afforded him a chance to dive into charity work sooner.
He expects other college athletes will follow similar paths as they discover their own passion projects.
“A lot of guys want to do philanthropic stuff,” Miller said. “I think the only reason I was able to jump on something quickly was because I had a history with it. Every locker room is full of great guys, and you give a guy a cause that he cares about, I think there isn't anything he would not do to support that cause.”
Miller said last week that he was unsure how much money the site had raised, but he was encouraged by the engagement he had seen on social media and the feedback from friends.
While visiting his hometown of Buford, Georgia, over the Fourth of July weekend, he stopped by a youth football camp and ran into one of his former coaches who told him he had purchased a t-shirt.
There is not a target sales goal for the pop-up site, which will remain online through Sunday. Miller only hopes more and more gear is purchased.
“If it was a GoFundMe, the goal would just be as much as possible,” he said.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State's Harry Miller uses NIL money to help kids in Nicaragua