It’s not exactly news that star athletes are role models for kids and adults alike. We look up to them, idolize them, and look to them for guidance on how to get to where we want to be, whether that’s a successful athlete or just successful in general. We follow their careers through the game, make note of their many accomplishments, and cheer righteously in favor of all the incredible athletic feats we witness them display.
The examples star athletes set can have huge impacts on both youth and adult fans. They can inspire us to want to be professional athletes ourselves and they can instill in us the hope that true success and fame built from nothing is really possible. They’re like celebrities, but they feel more real than that. We don’t exclusively see them on our TV screens or when we go out to the movies. Instead, we can buy tickets to their games and actually go watch their talent in action. We can see these real celebrities doing what no one else can do, and we love it because it inspires us. Us, the ordinary, see these exceptional athletes doing what no one else can do and we want to be as much like them as possible. So, we wear their jerseys, their shoes, their names on our backs. We do whatever we can to get as close to our idols as possible.
But, then our favorite athlete does something that we never expected them to do. They reach outside of the sports world into the ordinary world, our world. They visit our earthly plain like gods and perform miracles, and with those miracles, they inspire us in an entirely new way, a way we never knew they could.
Let’s use one of the biggest idols of the basketball world as an example, LeBron James. Kids and adults all over the country look up to him and his exceptional talent on the court. They wear his jersey and his name on their backs. Why? Because every basketball fan wants to be like LeBron James.
Then, LeBron went out and surprised all of us. He began the program “After-School All-Stars” to help at-risk youth in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. It is a program that provides tutoring and mentoring to help kids with their education and extracurricular activities. Their goal is to keep kids in school and encourage as many of them to graduate as possible, helping and supporting them every step of the way. The program currently sponsors over 800 children and the first kids involved will graduate in 2021. Through the program, each student will receive $9,500 annually to be used toward funding their college tuition. That’s 800 kids that may never have gone to college or even graduated high school without LeBron’s help.
Next, LeBron donated $2.5 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, an organization that strives to provide all children with equal opportunities while providing after school tutoring and mentoring. LeBron and his wife designed and donated furniture to the Miami Boys and Girls Club, replaced the roof, fixed up the children’s workspace, and donated 1,000 new computers to 59 different Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the country.
And perhaps the most charitable of all, LeBron opened the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio in 2018. The school began as an experiment where the most at-risk students of the district and those deemed most unlikely to graduate were plucked from their schools and placed in the I Promise School. There they are placed in much smaller class sizes with teachers and faculty dedicated not only to supporting the children’s education, but also fostering a sense of familial unity and trust among peers. While students are in classes, parents are also encouraged to come take advantage of the opportunities IPS has to offer where they can also take a course to help them achieve their GEDs. While the school is still very new and the full scope of the progress made is limited, student success scores have gone up, as well as reading proficiency and overall attendance. If students at IPS meet minimum academic requirements, they will each receive full-ride academic scholarships to the University of Akron, all thanks to LeBron.
This is just one man, one person, that came from so little and has prospered into a celebrity athlete, a star, and an idol. He overcame every adversity faced during his adolescence and now spends his days working to improve the lives of youths that face the same problems he did. Thanks to him, his generosity, and his passion, thousands of kids will feel the benefits of his charity and their lives will only be better for it.
Now some may read and this and think, “Great, that’s awesome. But, I don’t have millions of extra dollars in my bank account to give to charity.” Very few people have the means to be this charitable, and even less of those people actually want to use their money to help others.
But, just because you don’t make the big bucks or maybe aren’t the most affluent athlete in the league, doesn’t mean you can’t still inspire others to give what they can for the betterment of the world. There are hundreds of lesser-known athletes out there that don’t make nearly as much money as LeBron but have still made it their mission to give back as much as they can. Here are just a few that have inspired us with their philanthropy.
Chris Long, Defensive End for the Philadelphia Eagles donated an entire season’s salary toward helping kids. His first six game checks of the season which totaled $375K were used to fund scholarships in his hometown of Charlottesville. The remaining $625K went toward launching his Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign, making education more accessible for underprivileged youth.
Cliff Avril, another Defensive End for the Seattle Seahawks is also an example. Avril vowed to build a house in his native country of Haiti for each sack he made during the 2016 season. That season he attained a career-high of 11 1/2 sacks, but rounded his number up to 12 so he was able to build a dozen homes in Haiti. He then went a step further to provide clean water to an orphanage and renovate a school there to give back to the country he calls home.
Then, there’s Monica Puig, a name many of us have probably never heard before. She is Puerto Rico’s best tennis player and felt the impact of Hurricane Maria on her homeland hard when she heard the news. Without much money of her own to give, she decided to set up a fundraiser to help her country’s citizens through the devastation left by this natural disaster. Her fund has since raised over $150,000 toward helping Puerto Rico heal and rebuild the home she once knew.
The tales of athletes’ generosity and compassion are nearly endless. Sure, these athletes awe us with their talent on the field, court, ice, etc., but it is what they do off the court that is the true inspiration to us all. Because, when we see these star athletes going far out of their way to make real changes for the betterment of our world, it has the ability to inspire others to do the same. Every story, from LeBron’s donations of hundreds of millions, to Puig’s mission to raise money for her homeland, all teach us a very important lesson about how to approach life.
Even when you don’t have all that much to give, still give them your all.
You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference in people’s lives. And, you don’t have to be a professional athlete to inspire others to want to do the same. All you truly need is the compassion to put yourself in the shoes of someone less fortunate than yourself, and the will to want to help them improve their situation.
So, if we all want so badly to be just like our athletic idols, then don’t just wear their jerseys, their shoes, or their names across your back. Instead, be like them and work to make real change in the world by helping those less fortunate than yourself. Be like them and make a difference.
Chad Q. Brown’s Profile is a retained consulting firm incorporating distinct team building and talent strategies utilizing proprietary technology and behavioral assessment infrastructure. Our mission — help people get better at people.
Chad Q. Brown