Illustration by Ari Libenson
The LeBron James Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization created by arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, has collaborated with Akron Public School District to create a new public school. The I Promise school, located in Akron, Ohio, where James grew up, offers an incredible array of free services for students and families. Services range from breakfast and lunch, free bicycles and transportation (within two miles of home), to GED courses and job placement for families, among other perks. Perhaps most impressive: students who graduate high school with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher, will receive free college tuition to the University of Akron, paid for by the Akron I Promise Network Scholarship.
The creation of the I Promise school brings up a question that is not often talked about: what responsibility do athletes have to use their money and fame to create social change?
Many athletes come from underprivileged backgrounds and so can better view the needs of a community. LeBron was inspired to create the I Promise school based on his own childhood in Akron. His mother, Gloria James, had difficulty providing for him. She gave birth to him at sixteen and LeBron lived with a foster family for a few years in elementary school. Fortunately, mentors helped him get on track, and he started playing basketball. James was soon noticed as a once-in-a-generation player.
Athletes aren’t the only people who should be giving back to the community. That is especially true when considering affluent celebrities. They are much more widely known, and their influence can be considerably more significant.
Consider Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, who took a stand by kneeling during the national anthem to protest systemic injustice against minorities. Although it is a completely different situation, his fame has helped elevate his cause to a new level.
Many other athletes have used their platform and money for good causes. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback, launched the Why Not You foundation in 2014 to empower youth to be society’s next leaders. Buster Posey, catcher for the San Francisco Giants, and his wife, Kristen Posey, raised around two million dollars for the fight against childhood cancer. Cristiano Ronaldo, has made numerous charity contributions, including helping to fund a pediatric hospital in Santiago, Chile. The list goes on.
At the end of the day, the effort professional athletes put in are rewarded with large sums of money, and it is currently their choice how they spend it. However, most people live on significantly less money than highly paid athletes. No one needs to be paid inordinate amounts of money for playing sports, so giving back to the community should be considered obligatory when you reach that level of fame.
Some may consider it unfair to hold athletes to higher standards, regardless of their affluence. But just as athletes have an irrational status within society, their financial strength gives them the potential to have an outsized influence in their communities.