116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The business thing between the two Dan Hodge Trophy winners for the nation’s best wrestler is a handshake agreement, and it’s not likely to be among the most-lucrative in the NIL (Name, image, likeness) era of college athletics. But it fits Lee’s personality and requires little time or focus. Last Saturday, it helped him connect with fans who have been distanced from him for too long.
The three-time NCAA champ/senior-to-be at Iowa made a two-hour appearance at Iowa Style Apparel in Cedar Rapids to sign autographs and pose for photos with Hawkeye wrestling supporters. There was no charge or obligation to the many who came to meet Lee. If they wanted to buy a T-shirt or ball cap with the Lee logo that Ironside designed for him, great. If not, they still got autographs and conversation.
The appearance was Lee’s suggestion. “This is more just to be an ambassador of the sport and grow the sport,” he said, “and be the best you can be.”
Ironside, an NCAA champion for the Hawkeyes in 1997 and 1998 and the longtime radio analyst for broadcasts of Iowa wrestling meets, has taken his willingness to work and succeed on the mat to business. Ironside Apparel & Promotions has steadily grown, specializing in selling sports garb and doing custom screen printing and embroidery.
Ironside wasn’t necessarily a proponent for NIL legislation, but it was right up his alley as a business owner.
“It’s here, it’s happened, and these athletes would be silly not to try and take advantage of this as long as they continue to keep their focus where it needs to be on academics and athletics,” Ironside said.
“As a business owner that does this for a living and have relationships with some of these athletes in the sport of wrestling, I would be foolish not to take advantage of this as well and develop some partnerships.”
Three-time NCAA champ/senior-to-be Lee left it all to his father, Coe College Vice President of Finance and Administration Larry Lee, to sort out details with Ironside.
“I train every day,” Lee said. “Stuff like this is seldom because I don’t want to take time out of my schedule when I could be working out or focusing on being better every day.”
What Saturday’s event did, as much as anything, was personally connect Lee to the public after a season of wrestling in empty arenas. The number of people who told him they enjoyed watching him on TV last winter was large.
The appearance wasn’t promoted much beyond social media, but people came from a lot of different towns outside Cedar Rapids to see Lee.
“There was somebody here from Janesville, Wisconsin,” Larry Lee said. “Somebody said they came from four hours away.
“I’ve heard a lot of compliments. The fans love how he represents himself off the mat. Kids have asked him questions, how old he was when he started.
“There was a kid who said he was worried he was too small because he was 47 pounds. Spencer told him he started when he was 50 pounds. The kid’s eyes got bright. He came in thinking he was too small and left thinking ‘Well, Spencer was small, too.’”
Zach Counsell of Hudson, who made the 140-mile round trip just to meet Lee, said he thinks NIL legislation “is a great idea. Athletes are the ones making the money for the schools. I don’t see a problem with it.”
Lee said “I’m thankful people want to go out of their way to shake my hand.”
Ironside has added partnerships with Iowa wrestlers Alex Marinelli and Jaydin Eierman. Lee recently partnered with Barstool Sports.
“People are so worried about making money,” Lee said. “I’m just trying to be the best that I can be and keep doing what I did in the past. I did everything before without making a single dollar and I’d do it again.”
With Carver-Hawkeye Arena expected to reopen to fans this winter and Lee in pursuit of national title No. 4, he and Ironside will be doing a lot of winning.
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