There’s a lot going on in the world right now that demands our attention and deserves our support – but not everyone has the time or money to contribute. Professional athletes have increasingly used their platforms – and paychecks – to contribute to and advocate for causes close to their hearts. Below, we highlight 10 of the many athletes who have stepped up to incite change outside of the sports world.
Founded in 2011, Kershaw’s Challenge is a “faith-based, others-focused organization” that was born when Clayton Kershaw’s wife, Ellen, met a 9-year-old named Hope. At the time, Hope, who was born in Lusaka, Zambia, battled the HIV epidemic. Seeing Hope’s struggle forced Clayton and Ellen to sponsor Hope through a ministry organization to provide basic needs. From there, the organization developed into one based in Dallas, Los Angeles, Africa and Puerto Rico, where Kershaw gives scholarships to kids, promotes activity among kids and builds schools.
Serena Williams has given back often over the years. In 2016, she and sister Venus Williams returned to their hometown of Compton, California, and opened a community center to support residents affected by gun violence. In 2017, she jumped on board as an ambassador for the Allstate Foundation’s Purple Purse, which provides domestic violence survivors with financial empowerment services. This past year, she pledged $10,000 with Colin Kaepernick and donated to a Los Angeles-based organization called Imagine LA, which helps homeless families.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) June 23, 2017
Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is building up an impressive résumé when it comes to charity. He paid for the funerals of the 10 people killed in the Sante Fe High School shooting in May, and visited the survivors and nurses at a local hospital. But that wasn’t his first post-tragedy instance of outreach: After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, he invited a group of students from the school to play with him at the Texans’ stadium.
He was also instrumental in raising over $37 million for those affected by Hurricane Harvey – an effort which won him the NFL’s 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year award. He made sure the money went to organizations that would distribute it appropriately. Outside of those targeted efforts, he also started the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which has given $3.4 million in funding to after-school athletics programs for sixth- through eighth-grade children in Wisconsin.
Regardless of where your NBA allegiances lie, you can’t deny that Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant is doing good work off the court. In February 2018, he committed $10 million to fund a program in his home county of Prince George, Maryland, called College Track – a 10-year program that provides college admissions prep for children from less-advantaged backgrounds that might otherwise not have access to those resources. Additionally, four Bay Area high school seniors learned in early June that KD would be paying for their first year of college, due to their connection with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula, where Durant is heavily involved.
Manuel, the first black woman to win Olympic gold in swimming, turned pro after completing her senior season at Stanford University in March. She donated her first professional winnings – $2,200 – from a swim meet in May to the DC/Maryland/Virginia Chapter of the ALS Association. She was also involved in raising thousands of dollars after the meet. It might seem like small potatoes compared to LeBron, Durant and company, but in a sport whose athletes make a fraction of the major ones, it’s a grand gesture.
All great races begin in Indy! I had the pleasure of swimming my first pro swim meet and donating my winnings in honor of those fighting ALS. Congratulations to the ALS Association and the DC/Maryland/Virginia Chapter on their walk last weekend to fight to beat ALS! pic.twitter.com/p8Wq075vFw
— Simone Manuel (@simone_manuel) June 6, 2018
When he returned to Cleveland, LeBron James ignited the fanbase. He won games. He won a championship. But he also brought together a city. His play on the court was a major contributor to that, but his charity work was essential. James created the LeBron James Family Foundation around the time he was drafted into the NBA. Not only has that foundation spent more than $41 million to send kids to college, but it has also led to the opening of the I Promise School for third-and-fourth graders within the Akron Public Schools system.
— LJ's Fam Foundation (@LJFamFoundation) April 19, 2018
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor himself, established the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in 2012 to fund cancer research and provide support to families, not just individuals, battling cancer. Annually, the foundation hosts three events: the “Cook-Off,” “Laugh-Off,” and “Walk-Off” for cancer. His Cubs teammates and coaches have been known to attend, and through the events, the foundation has raised millions of dollars. Rizzo, an alum of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, raised money through his foundation for the families and victims of the Parkland shooting by donating items autographed by himself and other MLB players. He visited the school in February.
"I went to Stoneman Douglas," Chicago Cubs player Anthony Rizzo emotionally recounts at a vigil for victims of Wednesday's shooting in Parkland, Florida. "I grew up in Stoneman Douglas." https://t.co/OBC02oCdQc pic.twitter.com/WPU3n3XRVN
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 16, 2018
In September 2016, merely weeks after he kneeled during the national anthem and refused “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick pledged to raise $1 million. He wanted to donate money to charities serving oppressed communities across the United States – and he did. With the help of many professional athletes pledging their owns sums, Kaepernick completed this task in January.
Sean Doolittle and Eireann Dolan
Nationals closer Sean Doolittle and his wife Eireann Dolan have been involved in both the veteran and LGBT community for years. The duo, who both come from military families, work closely with Operation Finally Home, which builds brand new, mortgage-free homes for wounded vets and their families, as well as Swords to Plowshares, which provides job training, housing help and legal assistance to veterans. Dolan also raised money to buy 900 tickets to the Oakland Athletics’ first Pride Night and redistributed them to LGBT groups, back when Doolittle was with the team. That same year, the couple hosted 17 refugee families at their home for Thanksgiving dinner. Since then, the pair have been vocal in continuing to advocate for veteran and LGBT rights.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long donated his entire 2017 salary to charity — yes, the entire $1 million. Long’s idea was born after seeing the August protests held by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, so he donated his first six paychecks to scholarships for kids in his hometown. He sent his next 10 paychecks to educational equality organizations in the three cities he played in over the course of his 10-year NFL career: Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis.
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