LeBron James is making headlines this week on account of his establishment of a brand new public school, I Promise. Built in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, James’ school is covering its students tuition, meals, supplies, uniforms, and transportation. Additionally, the I Promise School will offer the parents of these students help with GED and job opportunities, truly illustrating the extent to which the school wants to see its families prosper.

James’ generosity and dedication towards improving the community he grew up inspired many, with people leaving comments of newfound respect for the somewhat controversial professional basketball player. And with the new debate over an athlete’s role in local and national communities, as well as his/her’s position to speak and act on social issues, James’ philanthropy comes at a pivotal time.

However, the future Laker’s center is far from the first athlete to give back to his or her community this year. Prior to Superbowl LII this past February, the Philadelphia Eagles received some attention for its charitable players. Quarterback Carson Wentz founded an organization, A01 Foundation, that helps kids in need and veterans by providing opportunities, access to food, shelter, and service animals if needed. Their safety Malcolm Jenkins supported football programs for communities in need in states such as Ohio and Louisiana (and even won the Byron White Award for Service last year). There were plenty of other players on the team who gave back in their own ways as well (too many to list here).

Former Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi started all the way back in 1996 with her Always Dream Foundation, buying computers for schools and covering uniform and summer camp costs for underprivileged children. Similarly, former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo created a health care and disease prevention orientated foundation in his name that funded a brand new hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2008, launched a chemotherapy training program at an already existing hospital in the DRC this past May, and advocated for the representation of the DRC in the Special Olympics.

The list of humanitarian athletes is exponential — especially if collegiate athletes are thrown into the mix too (for the sake of length, they’re not in this article). Point is, a prominent group of the world’s most talented and skilled athletes utilize their earnings and platforms to rally for the causes they are most passionate about. They are more than just football players, or Olympic hopefuls, or tennis superstars, and categorizing them as “just jocks” is a slap in the face for the work that they’ve accomplished behind the scenes.

And when the US government turns to social services first when budget-cutting time rolls along, appoints a Secretary of Education that seems to be disgusted by the idea of public education, and then points a finger at state governments when blamed for community development stagnation, it really makes a person think the genuine impact these athletes are making.

Photo Credits: Keith Allison via Flickr

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