When Mady Sissoko was growing up Bafoulabe, Mali in West Africa he sometimes walked the half hour to middle school in bare feet because he did not have any shoes.
Many of his classmates did the same.
“Yeah, I did walk to school with no shoes,” Sissoko said Friday on a Zoom call.
Sissoko, the youngest of 10 children in a family that hand-plowed corn fields in a village 12 hours from the capitol of Bamako, had a notebook and pencils to take notes in class, but many of his friends and classmates did not own those, either.
According to empowermali.org the average skilled worker’s annual salary is approximately $ 1,500 and half of the Malian population lives below the international poverty line of $ 1.25 a day.
Seven years after he came to the United States to pursue a better life through basketball, Sissoko, now a 6-foot-9, 21-year-old forward at Michigan State, is in position to give back to the people of his home country .
Sissoko has signed with Detroit-based Helium Sports & Entertaining Marketing Inc. for his Name, Image & Likeness representation, and plans to donate all of his marketing revenue to The Mady Sissoko Foundation to help the impoverished people in Mali have more opportunities.
He and his friend Fousseyni Traore, a sophomore forward at BYU who is also from Mali, are believed to the first college athletes to donate NIL money to a worthy cause.
“I moved here when I was 15 and I know what it was like back home, and now Mali is a really poor country and there’s a lot of people there who need help,” Sissoko said.
“I have an opportunity to help many people over there and I want to do that, so having this NIL stuff gives me an opportunity to do that. I want to do something to help people, especially the youth, so they can have a better opportunity going forward in life. “
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame, said Sissoko’s charitable efforts are in keeping with his personality.
“I was not surprised to hear that Mady would use his NIL opportunities to help others,” Izzo said. “He’s a kid who we just love because he works so hard and is dedicated to being the best that he can, and that goes on the court and off. To know that he created his own foundation to help the impoverished people of where he grew up in Mali, and to help create solutions for drinking water and to provide English classes does not surprise me. He is a kind and generous guy who has a deep care for others, especially those in his hometown. Mady is a testament to the good that we all can do. “
Michael Clayton, an administrator for an ophthalmology practice in Utah who is now Sissoko’s guardian, discovered Sissoko during a visit to Mali and helped bring him to the US “for his humility and athleticism.” Sissoko first enrolled and played basketball at Utah’s Wasatch Academy before committing to Michigan State in September 2019 over BYU, Kansas and Memphis.
International players are generally not permitted to benefit financially from NIL due to their visa status— although Kentucky’s Oscar Tschiebwe will reportedly earn $ 2 million in NIL money through workarounds.
Clayton, said he worked with an attorney who explained that if Sissoko donated his NIL money, it wouldn’t violate any rules.
“He cannot receive the income but if it’s donated to charity then it’s fine,” said Justin Brantley, president and founder of Helium Sports.
Added Clayton: “They can’t take any money personally, it all has to go into the Foundation and be spent on charitable purposes.”
There are seven players from the Big Ten Conference in the current “NIL College Basketball Top 100 Rankings” by on3.com with valuations ranging from $ 80,000 to $ 867,000.
Brantley believes Sissoko’s profile will enable him to make a substantial impact on the people of Mali.
“We are confident that we will be able to raise a minimum of $ 50,000 for The Mady Sissoko Foundation to help the impoverished people in Mali have more opportunities,” he said.
“Currently, Student-Athletes at Michigan State University have a NIL arrangement with United Wholesale Mortgage where they receive $ 700 / month for social media posts. UWM will be one of our first conversations for this project along with our current partnerships with ‘The Wealthy Brand’ (a Detroit-based street wear brand that specializes in luxury street wear) and ‘The Midas Platform’ (a disruptor in the global OTT Video & Audio Streaming market).
“With Mady’s social media presence, on-the-court abilities, and overall likable personality we will definitely have opportunities to align him with other brands to help us meet and exceed our goal which will have a major impact on his home country.”
Sissoko has several goals for his foundation.
First, he wants to help provide materials for school kids,
“People going to school, they don’t have much materials for the kids and most of them go to school, but they don’t know what to do after that,” he said.
Second, Sissoko wants to help with solutions for drinking water and to “provide a little bit more health care so they can take better care of themselves.”
Going forward, Sissoko hopes to play professional basketball and wants to give back even more to Mali.
“My goal is first of all, anything I can help [at] home and just try and give them a different perspective on life, how they can live a better life and especially school-wise, ”he said. “And to give them ideas on jobs after they’re done with school. And obviously I want to help my family, but for me it’s not just for family.
“I want to help more people outside of my family and I want to do it every day.”