Champ Bailey talks diversity, Hall of Fame and UGA’s expectations

Georgia wide receiver Champ Bailey, left, scampers away from Wyoming safety Greg Van Leer enroute to a 51-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of their game on Saturday, Sept. 19, 1998, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 12 in the nation. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)
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Georgia wide receiver Champ Bailey, left, scampers away from Wyoming safety Greg Van Leer enroute to a 51-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of their game on Saturday, Sept. 19, 1998, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. The Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 12 in the nation. (AP Photo/Erik S. Lesser)

This time a year ago, Champ Bailey found out he was on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot.

Bailey, winner of the 1998 Bronco Nagurski award for the nation’s top defensive player when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, found out he was on the ballot in an unconventional way.

“The funny thing is, I found out about the possibility of getting in just through social media,” Bailey said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “They didn’t call me or send me anything. I just happened to hear about it. (The Hall of Fame) is something you can’t control.”

Bailey was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019 after 15 seasons in the NFL with Denver and Washington. Like many players before him, he was honored to receive a nomination, but the possibility of being inducted into the College Hall of Fame isn’t something that he thinks about everyday.

“My work is done,” Bailey said. “It’s no different from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You just sit back and hope that the work speaks for itself.”

On Tuesday morning, Bailey was honored at the Truist Atlanta Open media day as a special guest. He talked to the public about his recent appreciation for tennis and his long-term love for his home state of Georgia.

But most urgently, Bailey spoke about the work of diversity and inclusion, not just in tennis, but in general. Away from the podium, he elaborated on his conversation and purpose of being at the ceremony.

“Everywhere I look, I see a lack of inclusion. There’s work that needs to be done, and I need to do my part,” Bailey said. “(Improving diversity in tennis) takes big brands and partnerships. You look at the sponsors here — NCR, UPS, FiServ — big brands. They can come up with the right initiatives to make sure everything continues.

“It’s about convincing them and helping them to push a narrative,” he continued. “It’s hard work because it takes time and it takes patience. It’s not going to happen overnight. I made the point to say that we’ve done some work. I’ve done work, they’ve done work, but we can’t get complacent.”

Bailey has spent much of his post-football days using his network and knowledge to work with different brands and partnerships to join his cause. It’s been successful, but he knows there’s work to be done.

Though his knowledge and experience are great, Bailey isn’t naive to the fact that his biggest strength in getting things done to help diversity and inclusion is his name recognition.

Humbly, the Hall of Famer isn’t quick to agree that he has some huge star status.

“Everybody else likes to say I’m a Georgia icon, but I don’t see it that way,” Bailey said with a smile. “There are so many great athletes that come out of Georgia. To be amongst those or if people want to label me that, it’s an honor, but there are a couple other guys that I’d put ahead of me.”

Bailey’s been able to attend several games at Sanford Stadium over the years. He plans to attend Georgia’s season opener against Clemson in Charlotte on Sept. 4.

Asked about the 2021 team’s expectations, Bailey has set them high.

“We’ve had a run here the last four or five years where we’ve been right in the mix. Why haven’t we won? I think it’s about that time,” he said. “This year is probably our best shot on paper, but we all know it’s football where anything can happen with injuries or bad play. You have to show up to play.”