Donating $2 million to the new University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital and Women's Hospital gives him a chance to do that.
The school announced Woodson's gift on Thanksgiving before he played for the Green Bay Packers against the Detroit Lions. The money will support pediatric research by The Charles Woodson Clinical Research Fund in the $754-million, 1.1-million square foot hospital scheduled to open in 2012.
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"He's really studied and tried to understand what the issues are in doing research in pediatrics," Dr. Valerie Castle said. "What most people don't know is that less than 10 percent of the National Institute of Health budget goes toward research in pediatric disease.
"When you study those patients, you often times get clues to adult diseases."
Woodson hopes to attract the world's best researchers who want to help children with cancer, heart disease, kidney disorders and autism.
"I want to be part of that symbol of hope," Woodson said. "So that they can say, 'I know I can beat this thing and there's people out there who will help me beat it.'"
Woodson said during a visit to Ann Arbor earlier this month that becoming a father in January motivated him to make the gift, altering his outlook on life.
"It can change a lot," he said.
Lloyd Carr, his coach at Michigan, hopes Woodson's gift pushes his peers to also give back.
"I think it's going to have a significant influence across the athletic world that he decided to do this," Carr said.
Woodson acknowledged feeling awkward about allowing a Fox TV reporter and crew to follow him as he visited patients on an off day in November, but said it was part of his mission.
"Half of the battle is about awareness," Woodson said. "When I signed on board to be a part of this team, that was going to be part of the deal. Part of making it work is me being a face or spokesman.
"I guess what bigger days can we do it to bring awareness to the cause when everybody is watching a Thanksgiving Day game?"
The native of Fremont, Ohio, helped Michigan win the national championship in 1997. He won the Heisman Trophy as a cornerback who also played wide receiver and returned punts — including a signature one against Ohio State when he struck a Heisman-like pose.
His memories from college on and off the field led to him giving back financially.
"It was probably best three years of my life that I can remember, other than having my son," Woodson said. "When people still see me, even though I have been in Green Bay and Oakland, they still talk about Michigan."