Mikaela Shiffrin poses for a photo after a competition.
Madison Keys and Mikaela Shiffrin know what it takes to raise trophies over their heads. A 2016 Olympian, Keys has won five WTA tennis titles to date, and Shiffrin has almost too many accolades to count (66 world cup wins, five world championship titles, three overall world cup trophies, and two Olympic gold medals in alpine skiing).
Now the two 25-year-old athletes are championing kindness.
May 22 is Kindness Wins Day—a day where everyone is encouraged to be kind to one another, in person and via social media. As the Kindness Wins website says, #KindnessWinsDay is “a movement to help change the world: one day, one post, and one individual at a time.”
“Typically online, you’re either seeing negative comments or people clapping back,” said Keys from Florida, where she is riding out the Covid-19 pandemic. “I really liked the idea of having a day where we just praise other people because I don’t think that we do that enough."
Kindness Wins Foundation
It’s an initiative through Kindness Wins, a foundation Keys recently launched as an umbrella organization for kindness initiatives. It grew out of her work with Fearlessly Girl, a non-profit promoting kindness among girls on social media. With a desire to improve the dialogue on social media and eliminate nasty online behavior, Keys was a Fearlessly Girl ambassador for three years and helped launch Kinder Girl World Day on May 21, 2019.
Through her work with Fearlessly Girl, Keys was often approached by women, men, and boys who asked how they could become part of the mission to promote socially responsible online behavior. So Keys started her own foundation with a broader mission: Kindness Wins.
“I really wanted to branch out and make everything even bigger and not limit it to just pre-teen and teenage girls,” said Keys. “I wanted to make everyone included.”
The organization would recruit athletes as “champions of kindness,” with Keys as the “founding champion.” Among other initiatives, Keys and the other champions would aim to create and support kindness initiatives and recognize kindness in others through grants and awards.
Keys launched Kindness Wins on February 24, 2020, with a fundraiser slated for early April to coincide with the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, South Carolina. After that WTA tournament was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Keys partnered with Shiffrin, cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, and mountain biker Kate Courtney to raise money for Covid relief through an initiative called Kindness in Crisis. The four athletes raised over $50,000 by auctioning online signed gear and memorabilia.
After the Kindness in Crisis auction, Shiffrin decided to stay involved with Kindness Wins, announcing last week that she had become the foundation’s first “champion.” The organization had struck a chord with her. Kindness Wins’ mission aligned with the way she was raised and with her late father’s motto, “Be nice, think first, and have fun.” In early February, Jeff Shiffrin died unexpectedly, shattering Shiffrin’s world and breaking the collective hearts of the entire Shiffrin family.
“My parents both instilled in me that I should treat other people how I want to be treated and, even more importantly, to hold others accountable for the way they treat those around them,” Shiffrin said in a statement. “For this reason and more, Kindness Wins’ message has resonated with me.”
Keys was excited to partner with Shiffrin, not only for the fan base that the skier brings but also for her voice, perspective, and experience. Learning from different perspectives and experiences “is part of what makes the world go round,” said Keys. “If everyone was super open and accepting of differences, the world would be a kinder place.”
“To have someone who’s so inspiring and excited to make this her mission is going to be great,” Keys said of partnering with Shiffrin.
For Shiffrin—who is known for connecting with everyone from her fans to reporters, asking them about themselves almost as much as they ask her questions—Kindness Wins provides a platform for her own kindness initiatives. She is aware of cyberbullying and readily quotes stats—“nearly 40 percent of people report being bullied online in their lifetimes, and 87 percent of young people have witnessed cyberbullying, numbers that have reached an all-time high in 2020,” she wrote in an email. With the stress of skyrocketing unemployment and increased time spent online during this global pandemic, many people are struggling with mental health issues, and Shiffrin wants to spread awareness of these issues as a Kindness Wins champion.
Madison Keys poses for a photo for Kindness Wins Foundation.
Kindness Wins Day
On Friday, Keys and Shiffrin will launch Kindness Wins Day. It’s modeled on last year’s Kinder Girl World Day, where Keys tagged people like her friend Laura, fellow tennis players Sloane Stephens and Serena and Venus Williams, model Chrissy Teigen, and former first lady Michelle Obama, letting them know how they had inspired her.
These women, in turn, reached out to those who had inspired them, making a viral hit of Kinder Girl World Day.
This year, Shiffrin plans to recognize an individual who she thinks “is an incredible example of someone who embodies the Kindness Wins mission,” along with others whom she sees exhibit kindness on a daily basis—"keep an eye out on Friday,” she advised. She will also challenge a few fellow athletes whom she admires to do the same.
Keys simply hopes the day will raise kindness awareness.
“If we can get people excited about it, and it’s a day where people aren’t stressed out about what’s going on right now or worried about things, it can be kind of a light, fun day where we get to talk up the people in our lives who we really appreciate, I think it will be a success,” she said.
For Shiffrin, she hopes kindness will spread beyond a single day.
"Being kind will never go out of style,” she said. “And I really believe that we have a powerful impact on society in spreading this message.”
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For more information on Kindness Wins or for a Kindness Wins Day graphic and info on how to make a kindness “call out” on social media, visit www.kindnesswins.org.
An award-winning freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.