During the spring semester of his senior year at Brown University, Kai Brown was taking an acting class as an elective, juggling schoolwork with track and field practices.
Six years later, the two-sport Ivy League standout and aspiring actor/stuntman can be seen on the small screen on two new television NCAA public service announcements, Celebrate and Cheer. The announcements will air during championship broadcasts in 2014 and 2015.
Brown is one of three principal actors reprising their roles as student-athletes for the PSA.
“Now it’s kind of ironic that I’m doing an NCAA PSA,” said Brown, who wears No. 94 during the football practice scenes in Celebrate. “I feel like I’m the true embodiment of the PSA.”
Kristina Baskett, who falls off the balance beam but gets right back on in the Cheer spot, can relate from her days as an All-American gymnast at the University of Utah.
The 5-foot-2 stunt woman has appeared in more than 30 different TV shows and feature films in addition to numerous national commercials. The difference in the NCAA shoot – and what she liked best – is that it showcased the other side of sports.
“A lot of highlight videos and things you see on TV are of us winning the gold or scoring a perfect score,” Baskett said. “This kind of hit on what we go through and that it’s the low points that make the high points so amazing. It was really easy for me to relate to because I have done that; falling on the same scale over and over again and feeling the frustration of wanting to pull through.”
Former UCLA rower Bobbie Smith also appears in Cheer and is excited to showcase its message to a national audience, especially when the PSA airs during NCAA March Madness programming.
“It was a great experience; I would totally do it all over again,” said Smith, a business owner and assistant rowing coach at the Marina Aquatic Center in Marina del Rey, Calif., where the crew scene was filmed.
Besides appearing on the usual CBS, ESPN and Turner properties during March and April, the PSAs will air during the ”Adult Swim” portion of Cartoon Network programming.
The previous spots – Spirit Squad and Marching Band – debuted in the spring of 2013 but expired March 1 of this year. Those PSAs were the first of the NCAA’s partnership with advertising agency Leo Burnett.
“We celebrate the small moments that make up the richness of the student-athlete experience, and failure and adversity are part of that,” said Amy Dunham, managing director of strategic communications. “It might not make the highlight reels, but it is part of what inspires those of us that work in college sports.”
Meet the Former Student-Athlete PSA Principal Actors
Athletic accomplishments: Former University of Utah women's gymnastics student-athlete. Twelve-time All-American and winner of seven NCAA medals, including the 2006 NCAA uneven bar championship. Led Utah to three consecutive second-place team finishes.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communication, electronic journalism. Two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American.
Fun filming fact: “Another athlete on the shoot is from Utah and has been to many Utah gymnastics meets.”
Acting experience: Has performed stunts in more 30 different TV shows and feature films. In commercials for Nationwide Insurance, Under Armour, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sony. Performed with Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas.
Reflection on being a student-athlete: “Looking back, I appreciate everything I got through it that a lot of people don’t get to experience, just the experience alone of getting to continue in your sport and all the help and support from the athletic department and other student-athletes. I think that college experience is one of the best things that you can try and set yourself up for because you get so much more than you can imagine.”
Athletic accomplishments: Two-time All-Ivy League defensive end at Brown University; also placed sixth at the Ivy League Track and Field Championships in the discus throw.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in commerce organization and entrepreneurship with a focus on business economics.
Occupation: Professional football player with four years’ experience in the United Football League for the Sacramento Mountain Lions and one year in the Arena Football League for the Iowa Barnstormers. Also an actor/stuntman, personal trainer and aspiring football coach.
Fun filming fact: “We filmed with the water and smoke machines, so it was dreadful because it was really cold in between takes. But it was fun at the same time because I felt like a kid playing a sport I love in the rain.”
Acting experience: Stunt double for comedian Corey Holcomb in the movie ”The Wedding Ringer,” starring Kevin Hart and scheduled to debut in 2015.
Reflection on being a student-athlete: “The benefit for me was to be able to budget my time and discipline. Brown does really well in giving support to the student-athletes to make sure you’re staying on top of your academics.”
Athletic accomplishments: Rowed four years for UCLA. Won bronze at the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) Championships/Pacific Coast Rowing Championships in 1997. Named to the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) all-conference team in 1999 and invited to the Olympic Training Center in 1999. Won silver at Head of the Charles Regatta in 2004, and Gold at San Diego Crew Classic that same year.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in materials engineering.
Occupation: Women's assistant varsity rowing coach for Marina Aquatic Center; owner of Fetch! Pet Care Silverlake-West Pasadena, Calif.
Fun filming fact: “The whole crew enjoyed watching all of us eat and they were worried that we wouldn't be able to row afterwards. If there is one thing that rowers know how to do, it is consume an insane number of calories, because we burn an insane number of calories.”
Acting experience: In 2004 was a background rower in the movie ‘Must Love Dogs.’
Reflection on being a student-athlete: “I’m a coach for juniors and their academics come first, but being an athlete is something that needs to be a high priority too because we are a very competitive group. We take girls to nationals every year in crew; however they’re not going to go to college and row if they don’t have the grades for it. I went to UCLA based on my academics; I was a 4.0 student in high school and I went into something that I knew would guarantee me work when I graduated.”