Jordan Matthews is using his platform for good.
After signing with the New England Patriots this offseason, Matthews has returned to Nashville to host the Vanderbilt Legends Charity Softball Game at Hawkins Field this Saturday, July 7. All proceeds will benefit YWCA Nashville and AMEND Together, two organizations dedicated to ending violence against women. Doors will open at 4 PM.
Matthews has also brought together a remarkable roster of Vanderbilt sports alums, including Jay Cutler, Jordan Rodgers, Earl Bennett, Christina Foggie, Oren Burks and many more.
The Hustler sat down with Matthews and Vanderbilt basketball legend Shan Foster, who now works closely with YWCA and AMEND, about this weekend’s event and what they’re up to in their post-Vanderbilt careers.
Cutler Klein: How does it feel to be back on campus and back in town?
Jordan Matthews: Obviously, it’s always a good feeling when you come back to the South. Every single one of the teams I’ve played for now are all in the Northeast. There’s just a different feel completely when it comes to the Northeast as opposed to the South. There’s a little bit more quiet, tranquility when it comes to the South. You go up to the Northeast it’s a lot more hustle and bustle, a lot more people. People are more rushed, like I’ll look up and it’s like 8 PM and I’m like ‘where did the day go?’ So, it’s always good to get back and relax a little bit.
CK: Do you feel the memories coming back walking around campus?
JM: A little bit. I think I told somebody this before. I knew it was going to take about 2, 3, 4 years maybe after I got done playing where I would actually grasp the concept of how much I enjoyed college. I knew when I was first in the NFL, I missed being at Vanderbilt all the time, but I really hadn’t grasped the fact that man, I came to this university that I would have never gotten into for my grades. It was just a blessing to be able to come to a place like this and to be able to have the times and memories and get the friends that I had, it was just amazing. Whenever I look back, I always smile.
CK: How did you partner up with Shan and YWCA to plan these charity games?
JM: We came together last year on it and we just kind of brainstormed to obviously push a conversation and awareness for a problem that we both are passionate about, that we feel has gone on way too long, but at the same time too, we wanted to get creative with it. I think that people always will know how intentional you are about change with how much you put into it, into what you’re going to do to promote the change. If we say ‘okay, let’s raise some money’ and I go ask some people to donate, I think you’ll still get people who are really passionate about it to donate, but some of the people that are on the fence, I think they’ll just be like ‘Oh, this is another guy just asking for money.’ But let’s say you said ‘okay, we’re going to put together something that’s going to bring the whole Vanderbilt community together.’
I’m calling Jay Cutler, Jordan Rodgers, all my old guys I played with, Andre Hal, Jonathan Krause, Kenny Ladler, Karl Butler. I’m getting on the phones and saying ‘hey guys, let’s do something that’s going to be fun, strictly for Vanderbilt, we’ll use our own facilities and kind of be the place where the foundation of this conversation is had. I just talked to Shan about it and he was like ‘yeah, let’s do it, man. Let’s have this game.’ I got my man Shan Foster here already who everybody knows when it comes to basketball here at Vanderbilt, so it was like let me go ahead and start hitting up some of these athletes and the response has been really good.
CK: Shan, how cool is it to have a guy like Jordan be so involved in this cause?
Shan Foster: I think it’s a game-changer. Anytime you’ve got folks who are not only passionate about this issue, but who are role models, not even just in this community but around the world. People look up to Jordan and Jonathan [Krause] and Jay Cutler and guys that are coming back to be a part of this. Naturally, when they stand up for a cause, it gets other people who look up to them to say ‘hey, maybe I should pay more attention to this. Maybe there’s something to it.’ In a lot of ways, these guys have accomplished something that these other folks are aspiring to do or really put it in a spotlight.
When we look at the statistics around these issues, it’s just staggering. The fact that one in four women experience domestic violence. That our Metro Nashville Police respond to a domestic violence call literally every 20 minutes. When you think about that and we all came to Vanderbilt, got immersed into the Vanderbilt community and this Nashville community. But how many women and children stood out there and shook our hand after games? How many people were in the stands cheering us on who were victims of this kind of violence and we had no idea? And so this is something that we’re both very passionate about and to be able to make a difference like this in the place where we spent four years of our lives and our careers and enjoyed and poured a lot into, it means the world to both of us.
CK: You both are some of the best role models Vanderbilt has to offer. How important is it to you to use that platform to spread a message on this issue given those statistics?
SF: I think it’s an incredible role. I think the most important thing, as Jordan mentioned before, is the role model piece. At the end of the day, anybody can step up and say this is wrong. But it takes a certain kind of man to step up and say ‘hey, I’m going to do this the right way. I’m going to be a role model. I’m going to be the person you can count on to really show you what it looks like to be in a healthy relationship. To really show you what it looks like to be a man who values and respects women and girls and really put not your money where your mouth is, but putting your actions where your mouth is.’ Jordan is married and I’m married and so when people look at us, it’s not just ‘athlete.’ It’s also ‘husband.’ It’s also ‘son.’ It’s also ‘friend.’ In a lot of ways, more important than the sports that we are able to play at a high level is the type of character that you show and are able to give back to these kids.
JM: I think what Shan said is completely right. Whenever you come out and talk about issues like this, I think the whole superstar veil kind of gets broken through and people want to actually see who you really are, how much this person really cares about this. They kind of look at your life too. That’s kind of the fun part, the fun part is getting past the superstar, Vanderbilt, all that stuff and saying ‘let’s have a real conversation.’ I’m going on foot meeting with kids and Shan has been awesome in setting that stuff up, going to the shelters, meeting some of these women face-to-face who have gone through domestic violence, seeing the way these kids have been abused and just put in these very vulnerable situations.
I love the part where it’s like yeah, we had great careers at Vanderbilt, we played pro, but none of that stuff really matters. I’m going to retire one day, Shan is done playing ball, and at the end of the day, who are you as a man? While we do have this platform, I want to break through that veil now and start saying ‘let’s have a real conversation.’ Because if we have enough men, the Jay Cutlers, the Jordan Rodgers, the Zac Stacys, Andre Hals, these guys that people look to and then they say ‘this guy is a superstar, let me look into their life’ and they see this man has a wife, he treats his wife right, he has kids that he respects, and he’s doing great in the community. Then there’s so much more to these guys. I think that’s the piece that I’m really into, just the authenticity, getting past all of the other stuff.
CK: This might be the biggest gathering of Vanderbilt sports stars ever. Does that show how the Vanderbilt community is truly a family?
JM: I think it is, man. That’s the most fun part about it. I’ve had situations where I played in Philly, Buffalo and now New England. These are all places with extremely passionate fanbases. If you do anything in Philadelphia, people are going to come out. If you do anything in Buffalo, people are going to come out. I could have just as easily tried to set up something there, but I thought ‘what’s going to get us longevity?’ There’s always going to be people that love Vanderbilt? You’re always going to have those fans and those guys that kind of want to come back and be in Nashville.
If I asked the guys to come back on this weekend, to come participate in this game, you’re coming to Nashville, you know what I’m saying? You’re coming back home, so it’s always kind of a fun thing for them anyway. What’s going to give us the best chance for longevity because I still want to be able to do something, like I said, when I’m done playing. Because me as a football player isn’t just ‘okay, when he’s done playing, that’s the end of it.’ No, I want to be old and gray having the Vanderbilt Legends Golf Tournament or something, whatever it may be. Because we still just want to do something fun, but we want to make sure we can continue to go with this issue.
CK: For both of you, if you had to pick one memory from your time at Vanderbilt as your favorite, what would you pick?
JM: I would honestly say when I was a freshman I really realized how much I love the game. I didn’t know going in how it was going to be when I got to college. I realized that a lot of guys really didn’t love the game the way that I did. It was so fun. We were losing to Florida like 60-0, I mean I think only my mom was there at the game at that point. But, Robbie Caldwell, our coach at the time, just looks at me and says ‘hey, we’re going to throw the fade ball and you better catch it.’ I kind of was like ‘okay, if I don’t catch this ball, I’m riding the bench for the rest of the year and I need to just go ahead and say when’s sophomore year coming?’ I got the ball thrown to me and I made a one-handed catch. At that point, it was like dude, I’ve been working super hard to finally get an opportunity. The opportunity came, I made a play and that just kind of set me up. I ended up scoring in the next three games and I felt like that in itself, that catch, we were down 60. So that was a really an opportunity for me personally. I think I can do this.
And then The Swamp. I went for like 170 in The Swamp. That’s when I knew I could play pro. They were good and I was like ‘I think I can go play pro.’ So those two moments.
SF: For me, man, I would really have to say my entire senior year. My entire senior year was the culmination of work that I put in for three years before. I was ranked the #1 shooting guard in the country for an entire basketball season. That’s unheard of. You’d be hard-pressed to find another college basketball player that had the kind of senior year that I did. I averaged 20 per game and led our team.
We were a four-seed going into the tournament. I think my best game, obviously, was my senior night. We played Mississippi State and I had 42 points and hit nine three-pointers in a row. The thing that, I guess, would be most important to me in that experience for that game was I started out 0 for 6 from the field. I had six points at halftime. It was just a tremendous display of overcoming adversity. That game was about showing the Vanderbilt fans and Nashville community how much I appreciate them and what they had given to me for those four years that I was here and I was able to do that. So that was a great experience.
CK: Who do you think is going to lead the Home Run Derby on Saturday?
JM: What we’ve got is we have four guys from the community, so four just great people in the Vanderbilt community. That’s what I love to do. I love, when we have this game, just because you’ve got these legends that come in that played at Vandy, I wanted to get some people that do amazing work in the Nashville community because they get overlooked so much, so let’s incorporate this. We have four guys that are going to join in and then four players: me, Jordan Rodgers, Oren Burks and Karl Butler. I know Karl played baseball a lot growing up, so I know Karl’s going to be pretty good. I also know that Oren Burks told me he’s been practicing. And Oren is one of those dudes that can play every position on defense, so I feel like he can play baseball. Something just tells me he’s going to be good. But I have to go with myself. I’ve gotta go with myself. It’s going to be fun.
CK: How cool is it going to be lining up across from Adam Butler at Patriots training camp this year?
JM: Adam, man. I think there’s like a battery that’s never not charged in Adam. I’ve never seen a guy like him. Literally, if the ball is run on the other side of the field, Adam is booking it. He’s like Waterboy. I think I might actually start calling him that, man. He goes hard. I love Adam. He’s been playing really well. Ralph Webb’s been doing good, Jelks has been playing really well too coming back from injuries. It’s been fun just across the board, having all those guys in the same locker room.
CK: Lastly, all the info about the event. Timing, format, etc.
JM: Doors open at 4, we’re going to have music playing, everything, concessions are going to be open. Refreshments will be there. We just encourage everybody to come in, get seated, start mingling. We’re expecting it’s been hotter, but we did the game in Memorial last year, so that was probably way hot. Count your blessings, it’s going to be fun. So we’re going to open the doors at 4, everybody’s going to come in. At 5:00, we’re going to have the Home Run Derby, and like I said, it’s going to be a fun atmosphere, music playing, we’re going to do some stuff that’s going to make the Home Run Derby fun too. And then we’re going to have the game at 6. I think it’s going to be a fun deal all around.
We’ve got coaches in Laurie Woods, I want to shout these two people out. Laurie Woods is going to be the coach of the offense. She’s been a teacher here for a long time and there’s so many athletes. If you just lined them up and just had them talk about Laurie Woods, it could last a whole semester. We love this lady, so she’s going to be the offensive coach. And then Brother Brown, his name is Barry Brown but we call him Brother Brown, he’s the team chaplain for the football team. He also does the coaches and I think he works with baseball now and Coach Corbin. Just an amazing guy, has served Vanderbilt for a long time. He’s actually on a mission trip right now and he gets back Friday and he’s still told me he would help coach in the game. That just kind of tells you the type of heart that he has. I’m excited to have those two as coaches.