Coach Dawn Staley Wants to End ‘Inequities’ in Sports and Healthcare (Exclusive)


Coach Dawn Staley is helping change lives on and off the court — with the help of the Aflac duck.

During a recent visit to the UVA Children’s Hospital in Charlottesville, Va., the beloved coach, 53, gifted patients undergoing pediatric cancer and sickle cell anemia treatment with an innovative social robot — the My Special Aflac Duck — designed to help them prepare for medical procedures, communicate their feelings, practice distraction techniques and so much more.

“This duck got my wheels turning,” Staley tells PEOPLE during her visit. “I got a little tutorial on it and now I’m selfishly going into take one home because, I mean, it’s an incredible invention.”

Staley says the Aflac ducks provide patients with the opportunity to express themselves in all areas of communication. “These kids are going through incredible treatments that somehow words don’t quite…get it. The duck will speak the mood they’re feeling: good, bad or indifferent.”

John D. Helms/Aflac

The South Carolina Gamecocks head coach says the invention is “incredible and innovative” with a “strong purpose” — an intention she carries into all her endeavors.

Staley’s praise for Aflac’s duck and additional community outreach is high. “I know I really sound like I have a partnership with them, and I do, but I truly believe in this,” she says. “I believe in everything I’ve done with Aflac to make changes to inequities in sports, inequities that are happening to everyday people through healthcare. That’s what it’s all about.”

“As an athlete, we’re shaping lives,” says Staley.

John D. Helms/Aflac

“We are intentional as athletes. But when we get people behind being intentional about change and making sure that people aren’t slighted, the voiceless, the people who can’t close the gap in their healthcare… I truly believe in their mission to close gaps on and off the court for me.”

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The partnership has also allowed Staley to provide more community engagement opportunities for female athletes as outlined in “Dawn’s List,” which the brand announced alongside Staley in March to help close gaps for female college athletes outside of their sports lives.

John D. Helms/Aflac

Of Dawn’s List, Staley says she and Aflac “have hit a home run” with the idea.

“When they sat me down and said, ‘What can we do to help close the inequity gap in men’s and women’s basketball?’ I immediately introduced them to our WBCA, which is our Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. I just didn’t want the change to be because of what I personally felt. I wanted to change to be overall that could help our game.”

She continues: “We came up with three things to see where they can make the biggest impact. Those three things have been able to shape investment, equity, fan experience and community engagement. Those are the things that we’ve been really poignant in trying to accomplish. I do say, in the short period that we’ve partnered, we’ve hit a home run in all three areas.”


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