“I feel like my personal gymnastics career ended last year… I was gifted this additional year, [and] I want to use it to give back.”

Megan Skaggs is wielding her extra year of eligibility with a targeted focus unlike any other athlete in the sport. Like all other NCAA athletes last season, she was offered the opportunity to compete for an extra season due to the accommodations made for the pandemic. In taking it, she becomes only the fifth Gator to ever have a fifth rostered season, and the first to ever compete in all five of those seasons. Also like most NCAA athletes this season, she has pressed full steam ahead when it comes to using her name, image, and likeness (or NIL) to profit off of her visibility and platform as an athlete. She has three big-name brand deals, she’s designed a leotard with Ozone, she’s selling her own monetized social shoutouts, and she’s one of only a dozen or so gymnasts who has professional representation. However, her approach to both of these things is uncommonly genuine. “[It’s] a very noisy place on Twitter, Instagram, everywhere, with athletes rightfully using their ability to make money off of their NIL. But sometimes you see something that [doesn’t] really align or make sense. To me, that’s something that I really care about – authenticity… I want to make sure that it’s true to me and my values and what I care about.”

That one word – authenticity – has been her guiding compass through the vast sea of opportunities she’s been presented with, but it’s also the sword she’s used to cut through the noise, standing out in the mass of athletes now flooding the Internet with their ideas. Her idea, her brainchild since NIL began nearly six months ago, is a perfect expression of that authenticity, that Skaggs the athlete and Skaggs the person really are identical: the Tiny Bow Project.

Taking the image and likeness part of NIL quite literally, Skaggs is using her signature meet hairstyle (shown above) as a way to create merchandise. She’s selling a package of hair bows, each one themed after a different cause she supports, with a different cause for each Florida gymnastics meet during the 2022 regular season. The list of causes is limited, as there are only so many meets in a season, but Skaggs has chosen them with care. “When this idea was born, I took a good amount of time – probably two months – just internally questioning myself and thinking hard about what I care about, what’s meaningful to me, and where I want to make impact and use my platform to inspire change and to inspire others in my community.”

20% of the proceeds from her shop – not just the bows, but all of her online sales – will go toward specific charities that support the causes she’s chosen, including The Trevor Project, Play for P.I.N.K., and Rise to Win. She’ll also be dedicating her online platform to each week’s cause, sharing different activations with her audience to further support each chosen charity. Skaggs shared that some of these will be interviews with members of some of the charities she’s working with, while others might be talks with fellow athletes who share her passion for a particular cause. We did learn of a team-up Skaggs has planned for Florida’s annual Link to Pink meet, which will be against Arkansas on January 28th. The Razorbacks have announced a giving project of their own for the season, so this meet will present a perfect opportunity for these charitably-minded athletes to join forces and support a great cause.

Skaggs also shared that the first cause she chose for her project was mental health awareness, and she’s chosen The Hidden Opponent as the charity to which she’ll donate to support that. It’s a cause that’s incredibly important to her, as she hopes to help end the stigma surrounding openly discussing mental health, especially in sport, which is exactly the goal THO states in their own mission. Another no-brainer for her was supporting the autistic community, as she has a cousin on the spectrum. Before this interview, I had actually approached Skaggs about her choice of charity for this cause, as she had originally chosen Autism Speaks. When I came to her on Twitter with information on why that choice was problematic and recommended an alternative, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, she was immediately responsive to the idea of changing her choice. Her exact words were, “Though my family had a positive experience, I cannot support an organization that does not provide equal opportunity for everyone.”

Later, in the interview, she shared, “[It’s] been a learning process for me, and I’m still learning every day going through it.” Even in today’s world, where the block and mute buttons are easy to press, and genuine dialogue is so easy to mistake for criticism without in-person context clues, Skaggs didn’t hesitate to do just the opposite. She opened herself to listening to her community, as I was not the only one who voiced concerns, and learned from what they had to say, choosing to switch to ASAN. As she continues this project and is planning conversations with activists and members of these organizations, it seems evident that Skaggs is interested in not only educating others, but educating herself as she pledges her support to these causes in every way she can.

Her unique take on this extra chance to leave a legacy has spread to her gymnastics as well. She still loves the sport and is thankful for the extra opportunity to compete and go after it for another year with her teammates, but Skaggs feels there is a bigger purpose to her presence in the gym. “It’s very special to be able to still participate on the team and give back to [my teammates] using this extra year. I feel like I’m not here for myself, but I’m here for them, and that just gives me additional purpose coming into the gym every day knowing that.”

Both in and outside of the gym, her overall goal for this year is pretty straightforward: leave her microcosm of the world better than she found it. “I would love, personally, to step away from this year still loving the sport as much as I did when I started, but [also knowing] that my impact meant more than just putting up good scores for the team. I would like to walk away knowing that I impacted those around me and made a positive change in my community and elsewhere.”

She also hopes to impact the student-athlete community as a whole, setting an example for others to follow who might want to use their NIL to affect change in this or a similar way. She hopes her efforts with Tiny Bow Project can be used as a blueprint, saying that she thinks that even though this is uncommon now, that other student-athletes are out there thinking about it – “There’s just a question of ‘How do I do that?’ So I hope that through Tiny Bow Project, I can inspire or ignite that and help other student-athletes figure out how to align their heart with their other NIL activities.”

You can learn more about or support the Tiny Bow Project by visiting the website, and be sure to keep an eye there and on social media for the activations Skaggs mentioned. Season is just around the corner, which means the time to support is coming soon, and even if bows are not your style, there’s always something you can do to support the community and causes you care about.

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