Every week at The Sunday Paper, we honor an individual who is using their voice, their heart and their mind to Move Humanity Forward.
This week, we honor Jim Nantz as our Architect of Change of the Week. Jim is a legendary CBS sports commentator whose voice is recognizable around the world. A three-time Emmy Award winner and five-time National Sportscaster of the Year, Jim will be heard everywhere this upcoming weekend during the NCAA Men’s Final Four. He’ll then guide us through The Masters golf tournament a few days later.
But Jim is also using his voice in another powerful way these days: for Alzheimer’s advocacy. Jim’s father, Jim Nantz Jr., suffered from the ravages of the disease for 13 years. Witnessing his father’s descent ignited Jim to use his national platform to raise awareness of the toll of this devastating disease and help find a cure. He explains his mission and his passion for the cause below.
1. What message do you hope to get across to Americans about this devastating disease?
We need to make Alzheimer’s research a priority. It’s a devastating disease and an evil opponent that must be stopped. They say there are roughly five and half million Americans afflicted with it – that means it’s impacting about 20 million total when you factor in the far too often overlooked caregiving side of it. For every one sufferer, there are at least three family members and caregivers whose lives are completely uprooted in an attempt to look after their loved one.
2. Your father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s lasted 13 years. What did you learn most from that experience?
Every day is precious. My father’s journey was a slow, but steady, descent into the dark abyss. Every month, we witnessed a decline. I talked to him as though he could hear and understand my every word. I imagined that he was imprisoned in his own body – fully capable of comprehension, but unable to express any sign of recognition in return. I told him a million times how much I loved him – right up to his last breath – though he had no ability to show me that he absorbed what I had said. I have faith that he did.
Also, I learned that I needed to take my national platform and do something with it. For over 30 years, I’ve had the best seat in the house at the biggest championships of American sports. It was time my father’s voice was heard. My voice is his voice. I sound identical to my dad. So in January 2011, my wife Courtney and I opened the Nantz National Alzheimer Center (NNAC) at Houston Methodist Hospital (nantzfriends.org). It is one of the top research and clinical care centers for Alzheimer’s in the world. We wake up every day driven to find a treatment and ultimately a cure.
3. Your tradition of gifting your necktie to a basketball player during the Final Four has been well-documented, but there’s a significance behind the act. What’s your inspiration?
It was a private moment for years that got picked up by some on-looking media at the 2016 Final Four in Houston. It was simply intended as an act of kindness and respect for a player on the national championship team who exhibited great character and leadership. It was never supposed to be a public story. But once it was out there, individuals at vineyard vines heard about it and joined me in producing and marketing the Jim Nantz Forget-Me-Knot ties — with designs that include the “forget-me-not” flowers — to help the Alzheimer’s cause. It is very exciting and rewarding to know as the word spreads, people will see the ties every time I am on the air and can associate me with the fight against Alzheimer’s. This is a charitable play in full force as I donate my time and name as it is important that I do everything I can to help find a cure – it is going to be my life’s work. vineyard vines has been a great partner and is donating 20% of the proceeds from the sales of the ties to the NNAC. The ties will be available on the vineyard vines website in early April.
4. This is a busy time of year for you between March Madness and The Masters. Is there anything else you do to keep your father’s spirit alive and with you while you’re on the job?
Every time the national anthem plays before the game, I pause during that two minutes and fall deep into prayerful introspection. I think of my dad and the rest of my family and count my many blessings.