January 31, 2023

For decades, NCAA student athletes could not make money off their name, image, or likeness due to amateur rules. That changed in 2020 and created a billion dollar industry.

However, a University of Northern Colorado basketball player partnered with a company for reasons beyond financial incentives.

Newcomer Langston Reynolds signed with the LLGND company, pronounced “legend,” this fall. Reynolds joined the Denver-based company after looking for a small NIL opportunity.

A friend’s brother, Grayson Walker, started his music career a few years ago under the stage name “LL”. The company’s mission is to “change hip-hop culture by producing high-quality, mainstream music free of self-destructive themes like misogyny, drug use, and violence,” according to its Instagram.

Reynolds said music is the company’s focus, while its merchandise – which is what its business is for – helps hint at the brand’s purpose. The newcomer doesn’t make music, at least not unless Walker can change Reynolds’ mind, but he likes to use the clothes to steer people toward the company’s focus: positive change.

Sure, a little extra cash and clothing helps — grants don’t always cover all living expenses — but Reynolds works with LLGND because he can be part of a movement to improve society.

“It’s not always about the money. I don’t really care about the money,” Reynolds said. “It’s just about changing people’s minds because I feel like if you have a bigger emotional impact on someone then the money isn’t an issue.”

However, this is not new. Reynolds previously volunteered with the Denver Rescue Mission, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Special Olympics of Colorado. He has always had a heart for service.

Reynolds grew up in Denver. His mother, Shaunta, is a single parent and he has seen his peers fight.

Drugs are a big reason some kids don’t even finish high school. Children who experience substance abuse may become violent, struggle with regulating their emotions, have trouble in school, or engage in criminal behavior, according to the Colorado Kids Pediatrics website.

Denver Health doctors told the Denverite in September that they are seeing a surge in children requiring substance abuse treatment.

In the interview, Dr. Christian Thurstone of the Denver-based Colorado Public Radio affiliate said his office treated one child with an opioid addiction each year. Now it sees about two a week. Of the six patients who have died from drug overdoses, four have occurred in the past two years.

There are many reasons for that. Pop culture plays a role, but the problem runs much deeper.

Pills are relatively accessible, stronger, and easier to take than injections. The US has limited treatment options and facilities equipped to help minors struggling with addiction. Added to this is the lack of preventive measures, such as psychiatric care. Children also need positive relationships with adults.

Reynolds’ deal gives him the opportunity to further a company that believes in healthy habits, positive emotional expression and secure relationships – all things he values.

He wants to help the company and its music start conversations about development aid for children, especially children growing up in single-parent families. The National Institutes of Health reports that children from two-parent households are less likely to use drugs and engage in violent behavior. It’s all connected.

“I feel like very young kids struggle, especially in a single-parent household, when they’re just growing up with that one parent and they don’t really know what to choose, what to do well and what not to do because the parents can’t be there all the time,” Reynolds said. “I feel like we’re growing into that.”

The LLGND website said its focus is on marginalized communities as they are often most affected by the beliefs and behaviors, but Reynolds said he wants everyone to feel welcome listening to the music, wearing the clothes and addresses problems he may be facing.

“It’s for everyone. Even if they don’t talk about it, everyone has a fight,” Reynolds said. “It’s not just about one race or one group; only who needs it.”

Bears coach Steve Smiley said that coaches often spend most of their time, nearly 90%, on tasks unrelated to game strategy. That’s one of the reasons he loves the job. He can mentor young men at a key time in their lives.

At the same time, coaching can be tough. Check out Alabama Basketball’s Darius Miles. Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats was praised for turning the program around through a strong on-court system and accountability. Despite this, Miles was charged with murder for allegedly providing the gun that killed a 23-year-old woman in Tuscaloosa.

He’s not the only college athlete to face felony charges in his career, but he is the youngest.

Smiley said seeing these incidents reminds coaches that they are away from their student-athletes most of the day. It may feel like they are mentoring all the time, but they can sometimes feel helpless when incidents happen that are beyond their control.

That’s why the UNC staff is proud of Reynolds and of course his teammates. While conversations within collegiate athletics often center on win-loss records, revenue and attendance, Northern Colorado players embrace who they are off the court.

They invest in academic success – the team has a cumulative GPA of 3.26 – give back to the community and develop healthy social circles. They also work to spread positivity and kindness.

Reynolds is just one of the players who have taken it a step further in NIL’s new landscape.

“To see that he wants to make a cultural change with some of the things he represents doesn’t surprise me. I just think it’s cool because he wants to be more than just a basketball player,” Smiley said. “That’s what we do, whether it’s a coach or a player, but it’s not necessarily who we are. It’s part of who we are, but you have to be able to separate players from people, coaches from people.”

Fans can visit the LLGND website at llgndary.com.

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