In late July, NBA superstar LeBron James made international headlines after opening his I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The public elementary school, created to assist at-risk youth, offers free tuition, college funding for all students who graduate, an extended school year to keep children engaged in their schoolwork, and a food pantry for parents, as well as many other resources for students and families — all free of cost.
LeBron’s initiative comes in the wake of Fox News reporter Laura Ingraham’s comment earlier this year that LeBron and fellow NBA superstar Kevin Durant should stay away from political commentary and social issues, and “shut up and dribble.”
Ingraham received widespread criticism over the remark, as sports fans, politicians, and media figures reaffirmed the widely held position that athletes have the right to speak up on issues they see as important and to use their wealth and stature to give back to communities in need. Since the incident, examples of social awareness and altruism in sports have gained much more attention.
LeBron’s peer, WNBA star Tina Charles, is one of these examples. For the third season in a row, New York Liberty’s centre has donated her entire salary to her own organization, which is aimed at combating sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), the number one cause of death in the United States. Charles’ efforts have made external defibrillators accessible for thousands more people, thus decreasing the chance of death due to SCA from 90 per cent to 10 per cent.
Canadian Olympic icon Clara Hughes, the only Olympian in history to win multiple medals at both the Winter and Summer games, has been working for years to help end the stigma around mental illness. As the national spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk, Hughes has assisted in bringing over $7 million to the cause of eliminating the stigma around mental health in Canadian communities.
Fellow Canadian and NHL winger Jordin Tootoo, the first person of Inuit background to play in the NHL, has created anti-bullying programs for Indigenous youth and communities through the Team Tootoo Fund. These programs also include raising awareness for suicide prevention and addiction in Indigenous communities. With Inuit suicide rates 11 times higher than the national average, the goal of the foundation is to provide Indigenous communities with proper mental health services, and to “get in front of kids about suicide prevention and let them know there are people who care.”
During the FIFA World Cup earlier this summer, 19-year-old French phenom Kylian Mbappé gained international attention after donating his entire national team earnings to Premiers de Cordée, a charity seeking to provide greater access to sports for children with disabilities.
Spanish professional soccer player Juan Mata also created the Common Goal initiative, which encourages players to donate a minimum of one per cent of their salary to charity. The initiative is in response to skyrocketing transfer fees in the soccer world, with the goal of introducing “social responsibility” to soccer by setting a realistic humanitarian goal that all players would be willing to participate in.
The goal is a minimum requirement that should be adopted by athletes in all sports, not just in soccer. Sports fans should not only celebrate social responsibility taken by athletes, but should encourage athletes to speak out on social issues and set an expectation for all professional athletes to make a commitment to humanitarianism.
Athletes serve as role models for entire cities and nations, and these tremendous stories of altruism could go far beyond sports by serving as inspirations for thousands of others to try and do something good for humanity.