Antone Exum already had some headphones picked out for himself and a few for his friends on Christmas Eve. The Virginia Tech cornerback was thinking about some speakers, maybe a few DVDs to finish off the $470 gift card to Best Buy that all the Hokies got as part of the Russell Athletic Bowl swag.
“It was really all wants,” he said before practice Tuesday. “It wasn’t anything that I needed or anything, so I just put it back and tried to help some kids out.”
Exum put his things back on the shelves and sought out a few kids he saw earlier in the store. They were playing a demo version of the PlayStation 3 when Exum offered to take them on a shopping spree.
“They asked me like three times, ‘So … we can get anything we want? We can just buy anything we want?’” Exum said. “They kept asking me. I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. I’ve got this money and I want you to go shopping and get what you want.’”
Eventually convinced that the gesture was on the level, the three kids, two brothers and a cousin visiting Florida from the Bahamas, picked out what they wanted for Christmas.
Originally, Exum thought it was only two boys. But a third, the youngest of the group, was with his mother and quickly joined the spree. Their haul — a PlayStation 3, some controllers, some video games and a Blackberry — totaled over $500, which was a little more than what Exum had on his card. Teammates Tariq Edwards and Marcus Davis covered the difference.
“It just came down to at the end of the day, I was blessed to have a lot of fortunate Christmases when I was a kid,” Exum said. “So I hope that every kid deserves to have those perfect Christmases.
“So when I had the chance, I wanted to give those kids the chance to shop in my cart and get anything they wanted and hopefully it’s a Christmas that they won’t forget. And I know that it was a Christmas that I won’t forget because I won’t forget those smiles and the excitement on their faces when I told them they could get whatever they wanted in the store.”
Exum innocuously tweeted a picture of himself, Edwards and the three kids. Little did he know that it would go viral. Retweeted nearly 500 times, it made its way around the web, eventually getting up on Deadspin as a feel-good story of giving on Christmas Eve. It took Exum by surprise.
“I just took the picture with the kids so I can remember the kids,” he said. “When I put it on there, I started seeing people retweet and things like that, and then [running back] J.C. [Coleman] texted me and was like, ‘You’re about to blow up.’”
Hundreds of people tweeted back to thank him for the gesture. Exum spent part of the night in his hotel room trying to respond to as many of the messages as possible. He went over Twitter’s limit.
“I think if you go over 100 in a certain amount of time, that you go in Twitter jail or something,” he said. “I was like, ‘Man, I can’t thank all these people.’ So I sent out a tweet this morning apologizing to all the people that I didn’t get back to.”
Head coach Frank Beamer said it fit in with the team chaplain’s message of giving around Christmas.
“That’s what life is all about,” Beamer said. “And I was proud of him. He made someone else’s Christmas better and I think he felt good about it.”