The sports industry is a multibillion-dollar global machine, and one University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information alumnus is trying to channel that wealth to battle the end of cancer.
Jeremy Jones, a 2011 communication graduate, is helping in the fight against cancer through The V Foundation for Cancer Research. The nonprofit was formed in 1993 by ESPN and late basketball coach Jim Valvano, known as Jimmy V, to award cancer research grants nationwide. Combining his passion for sports, love of marketing and affinity for philanthropy, Jones is working right in his sweet spot.
“I love what I do because it makes a difference,” Jones said. “I wake up every day and I still get to work in sports, but I’m also creating change, even if it’s a small piece. I’m on a team where our mission is Victory Over Cancer®, and that’s what we wake up for every day, and that’s our motto.”
When Georgia-native Jones came to UK to play football, he wasn’t sure what his future path looked like. At the time, the university didn’t have a sports management track. Instead, Jones chose communication to enhance his people skills while taking as many sports-related classes as he could. Along with a virtual internship with a sports agency and a marketing internship with Learfield IMG College, formerly Rupp Arena’s exclusive venue-media rights holder, he said every move he made was calculated toward a career in sports.
Marketing served as Jones’ entry point into the world of sports employment. After a few years brushing up on his marketing skills in real estate, he leveraged his communication skills to secure a spot as an account executive with the Brooklyn Nets. While many sports fanatics might have found working for a professional basketball team as a dream job, Jones knew after a year that his purpose lay somewhere else.
Enter The V Foundation and an opening for a marketing manager for the Victory Ride cycling event. It was a short-lived role where Jones handled social media, marketing and promotion of the event, but he used his nine months on the job as the catalyst for his company career.
It wasn’t long before he was promoted to engagement manager. In the three years he spent in the position, Jones managed the ambassador program, working with the likes of John Calipari, Dick Vitale, Kevin Durant and other celebrities. He helped these ambassadors share their cancer stories to help fundraise on behalf of The V Foundation. Some of these fundraisers included auctioning off game memorabilia and organizing fundraising dinners.
His new position, director of brand and influencer partnerships, is a carry-over of the ambassador program. However, instead of just working with famous individuals, he also works with famous brands, specifically those geared toward millennials and Gen Z audiences. His goal is to bring a fresh face of donors to The V Foundation to complement their typical, big spending donor base.
While Jones has had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in sports thanks to his job, he said treats everyone the same. This is a philosophy he has carried over into his role as the diversity, equity and inclusion committee chair. In summer 2020, he approached The V Foundation’s leadership team with the suggestion of starting a DEI committee to improve the organization’s hiring practices, events, invitees and sponsors. Although his term as committee chair is ending later this year, Jones said he has seen considerable efforts and progress within the nonprofit.
“It’s still a learning process every day because even being a Black male, that doesn’t make me an expert,” Jones said. “But I just wanted to help make some sort of change and I think it’s been great so far.”
Jones’ fight for change, both in diversity and cancer, goes deeper than just desire — it’s a lived experience. He has seen a cousin ravaged by lung cancer. So, he works not only for himself and his lost cousin but for a better future for all.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, especially when I see the word ‘cancer,’ and that’s in our name — The V foundation for Cancer Research,” Jones said. “When I see those words, I just think of him. And I’m hoping that I’m making him proud.”