John Mara, President, CEO, and co-owner of the New York Giants, explains his passion for improving educational access opportunities.
By Andrea Dawn Clark
This year marked a big milestone for the New York Giants and John Jay College. It’s the first year of our New York Giants Touchdown Fellowship. The generous donation from the Giants speaks directly to John Jay’s justice mission and our commitment to social mobility. The $150,000 fellowship is payable over three years, and it supports a scholarship and paid internship for five undergraduate rising seniors from underrepresented populations, who are majoring in Criminal Justice. Students receive a scholarship of $5,000 for tuition, fees, books and supplies, plus a paid internship of $5,000, split over the academic year. Preference is given to students with justice-involved backgrounds or immediate family members currently or formerly incarcerated. Sitting down with John Mara, President, CEO, and co-owner of the New York Giants, we learned why he and his team started the fellowship program at John Jay.
Why was creating the New York Giants Touchdown Fellowship so important?
It started as a result of conversations with our players who wanted us to support their efforts to effect social change through social justice initiatives. One of their first thoughts was a scholarship program at John Jay. The idea behind it was to provide deserving students with an opportunity to get a degree, specifically students who are interested in criminal justice and social justice. The issue of mass incarceration in this country is certainly one that’s on the minds of a lot of people, particularly a number of our players. To be honest, it wasn’t really something that I was focused on until they brought it to my attention and I started doing some research. Then I realized that the incarceration rates in this country compared to other countries is way out of whack. One of the tools you need to improve that situation is education.
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned in college and law school?
Right after I got out of law school, I went to work for a law firm that represented labor unions. I spent most of my time representing the union members—hotel, restaurant, and cleaning workers—trying to win their jobs back. I grew up in a family business where we always treated people with dignity, respect, and compassion. It was a real eye-opener to be out in a world where people weren’t necessarily treated that way. There was nothing more gratifying for me professionally than winning somebody’s job back.
Why is philanthropy so important?
For me, it was just the way I was raised. I’m a big believer in the biblical verse, “to whom much has been given, much will be required.” I’ve been given a lot in my life. I’ve led a very privileged life, and with that comes responsibilities. It’s important to give back and to try to do what we can to give other people opportunities that maybe some of us have taken for granted. We have a lot of players who are very conscious of giving back and who do a remarkable job in their communities.
Do you have any fun Giants stories?
My family goes back with the Giants to 1925, when my grandfather purchased the franchise for the sum of $500. I’m in the third generation. When I was in college taking business classes, I remember taking a class that was focused on family businesses. One of the main principles of that class was that family businesses rarely survive the third generation. It’s usually the dope in the third generation that screws up the family business. I’m doing my best not to do that. I’m sure a number of our fans would say, “It’s too late, you already are.” We’ve had a tough stretch lately, but we’re hoping to turn things around and get better. We’ve had a lot of great thrills in this business—winning some Super Bowls, meeting a lot of great players and people. It’s all been a blessing. Hopefully it’s something that’s going to stay in our family for many, many years.
Photography: Courtesy of New York Giants