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  • Scott Barkley

Difference-maker: football recruit using NIL money to support adoptions

Bear McWhorter (#76), a 4-star offensive tackle out of Cass High in White, Ga., is using money through Name, Image, and Likeness endorsements to establish a fund to offset adoption costs for families. Photo by Deanna Berry

EUHARLEE, GA (BP) – It was a hot day in September 2021, and Vanessa McWhorter jostled with a sweaty toddler in the football stands watching her son push other boys around on the field. 

Unlike her son, though, the child she held didn’t share her DNA. Vanessa and her husband, Josh, had already adopted a little girl into their family. The one in her lap would follow about six months later.

In earlier years, the McWhorters were about as set as a family could be. Josh was, and still is, a respected businessman in the community who volunteered a lot of time to coaching youth sports. Vanessa was involved in numerous volunteer opportunities. They had two kids, a daughter and son, who were molds of their parents. Things were lined up for a picture-perfect life.

Bear McWhorter stands with his sisters Lily, Olivia and Lydia. Photo from @BearMcWhorter/X

But through their volunteerism, Josh and Vanessa saw kids in harder circumstances. That, plus watching other families foster and adopt children, prompted them to do the same. There was a different path to take. 

It would converge with the still-growing young man on the football field burying one defensive lineman after another. Just as adoption impacted him, those experiences would one day prompt him to bless other families. 

Making the most of an opportunity

His birth certificate says “Joshua Alan McWhorter, Jr.” Vanessa, who grew up in South Carolina rooting for the Gamecocks, attempted to use his birth name. It would be futile, as Josh and his family of Bama fans established a different name early and often. 

It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you grow to 6’4” and 297 pounds by the time you’re 16, “Joshua Alan” just doesn’t fit the script the way “Bear” does. 

Lydia and Olivia are dwarfed by their brother after a game.

With two years of ball left for Cass High in White, Ga., Bear continues to collect scholarship offers (27 and counting) even after the 4-star recruit made a verbal commitment to Arkansas last fall. When the state of Georgia approved Name, Image and Likeness deals for high school athletes last fall, it opened up opportunities for players like Bear to reap a windfall that has now come to be associated with highly-recruited teenagers. 

For Bear, though, there was a different path to take. 

Father and son spent many weekends on recruiting trips. The prospect of NIL money became part of those discussions. One day Bear floated the idea of using it to help offset adoption costs for families. That led to steps currently underway to establish the Brother Bear Foundation.

“I’ve wanted to have a way to help others any way I can,” said Bear.

 “Adoption completely changed my life. When I started getting those opportunities, I knew it was time to do something.”

“We were talking about different ways to use NIL to help others,” said Josh, who played a little college ball himself as an offensive lineman at Furman. “But he kept coming back to adoption. He and his sisters have a special relationship.”

Big changes, big blessings

Olivia, 11 years old, joined the family when she was almost five. Four-year-old Lydia was four months. In addition to serving as foster parents as needed, the McWhorters have also provided respite care for foster families.

The family attends Cartersville (Ga.) First Baptist, where Josh has served as a deacon and Bible study leader. Vanessa teaches 5th grade Sunday School and chairs the benevolence committee.

“Obviously, it doubled the size of our family and spread us a little more thin,” said Vanessa. “But I wouldn’t change anything. Bear has a heart for adoption. Lily (who will begin attending Arkansas in the fall) wants to be an elementary teacher and has told me she wants to be an adoptive mom.”

Because of the stories they’ve heard in their own home, Bear and Lily intuitively know and gravitate toward the kids at school who are living in extended stay hotels or dealing with similar difficulties. That awareness follows to the cost of others wanting to help.

“Hopefully, the foundation will lead families who are in position to welcome kids into their home for adoption,” said Bear.

Some people take a different path. They may also create them for others. 

“When it came to the opportunities through NIL, we wanted him to think of what was important to him,” said Vanessa. “We didn’t want him to look back in ten years and wonder what happened with it.

“We want him to be a difference-maker.”



Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.



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