Indiana basketball player Anthony Leal's Christmas gift to his older sister Lauren was to pay off her student loans with his NIL money.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 13, 2023. It has since been updated.
Family debt is never easy to deal with, but when a sibling has considerable student loan debt that could weigh on the future, it can be even more worrisome. When Indiana basketball junior Anthony Leal realized his sister would graduate from college with a substantial debt hanging over her head, he decided to quietly take the burden away from her shoulders. Leal, a business major at Indiana University who plays point guard for the Indiana Hoosiers, got straight to work when the NCAA changed its policy in 2021, enabling student-athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness.
According to CBS News, the ruling has benefited an estimated 460,000 student-athletes across the United States as it permits them to negotiate endorsement agreements, apply for employment and create their own businesses. Thanks to the NCAA policy change, Leal has sponsorship deals and recently launched his own real estate firm.
To top it all off, Leal was able to make his older sister's Christmas a memorable one. A video of his heartwarming surprise shows his sister, Lauren Leal, opening a card from her young brother with an adorable note and the news that he has paid off her student loans. Lauren herself was a basketball player for DePauw University in Greencastle before an injury ended her playing career, reports Good Morning America.
Never in my life have I felt this level of shock. I was so stunned and absolutely speechless before my tears flowed. Saying “thank you” will genuinely never be enough! Merry Christmas✝️ https://t.co/4nTssc2KQ3— Lauren Leal (@leallauren3) December 25, 2022
The touching note from Leal read: "You're a spark of goodness brought into the world. You radiate kindness and bring happiness to so many people, especially me." Lauren paused for a moment, glanced at her brother, and exclaimed, "That's so nice!".
She then continued reading: “Hey sis, I wanted you to know how much I look up to you and admire who you are. Your soul is beautiful and you are the best role model ever. There is no doubt that I have made it to where I am today because of you. Someone like you deserves no burdens or restrictions in life." Lauren was left speechless as she silently read the next part of the note before exclaiming: "I don't even know how much that is!"
"I do — it's zero now," Leal replied. The emotional moment was topped off by a loving embrace between the two siblings.
Top 5, parenting moment. Merry Christmas.🎄✨🎁 pic.twitter.com/IgzlZYu8bO— btown@l3alfam (@btownl3alfam1) December 25, 2022
"We're just trying to make the most of the opportunity we have," Leal said in his first television interview. This Christmas, he paid off his sister Lauren's school loan debt with money he had saved up. He'd been planning to do this for his role model since freshman year.
"I don't expect anything in return," Leal said. "I know she'll pay it forward, what goes around comes around." The gift represents a new beginning for 23-year-old medical assistant aspirant Lauren as she transitions into the real world. The feeling she has about not having to worry about student loan debt can be summed up in one phrase, she said. "Freedom would be the best word for that. And like I can go full steam ahead in my future and what I want to accomplish, what I want to do, without having that just weighing me down and holding me back. So it's just, it's surreal. it's incredible," Laren stated.
Mike Woodson, the head coach of Indiana, was pleased with Leal's deed, which demonstrates the benefits of NIL in collegiate athletics. "Well, I think it's a beautiful thing because, again, a lot of these kids, man, NIL is helping out tremendously with a lot of these families," Woodson said, reports Yardbarker. "For him to step up and do that, I don't know how much money he's made in NIL, but the fact that he's made some money and he's able to put it towards his sister's schooling, her education, is tremendous, man. He'll be blessed for it one day. I mean, he might not see it now, but it will come back to him. You do good things like that, good things happen in a way. I'm proud of him as a young man because he didn't have to do that. Again, she's blessed by it. The family is, too, as well. That's a big thing to step up and do something like that."