Athletes and Leagues who are giving back and elevating their communities

November 26, 2023
To wrap up a long U.S. holiday weekend dedicated to giving thanks — and as a palate-cleansing preview to Giving Tuesday — we’re sharing stories of athletes and leagues who are giving back, elevating their communities, and incrementally leveling the playing field, one act of kindness at a time.
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Athletes and Leagues who are giving back and elevating their communities

👟 Helping parents win the race

Allyson Felix isn’t just the most decorated U.S. track athlete in Olympic history, the 2022 retiree is also barrier breaker when it comes to giving back and supporting parents, especially mothers.

  • In 2019, Felix spoke out against then-sponsor Nike’s plan to reduce her salary by a whopping 70% during her pregnancy. Thanks to her activism, Nike eventually changed its tune and enacted a new maternity policy that same year.
  • Felix also advocates on behalf of Black mothers, even testifying before the U.S. Congress in May 2019 on the health and mortality crisis that disproportionately affects Black women.

And just like her signature kick, Felix has only picked up speed. After leaving Nike, she partnered with new sponsor Athleta and the nonprofit &Mother to provide free childcare to athletes and their support staff at the 2022 USA Track & Field Championships. Athleta and Felix also worked with the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) to establish $10K grants for related expenses for athlete-moms.

Plus, Felix’s own shoe brand, Saysh, boasts a unique maternity return policy that offers a new pair for free to customers whose shoe size changes due to pregnancy. She’ll likely need to swap her own kicks: the trailblazing GOAT announced she’s expecting again last Wednesday.

🎾 The original trailblazer


The one and only Billie Jean King (BJK) is synonymous with equity and advocacy. Her watershed 1973 Battle of the Sexes victory launched her into feminist and social justice icon status — a role she already embodied after scoring equal pay at the US Open earlier that year, making the Grand Slam the first of tennis’ major tourneys to achieve it.

  • That massive financial win still impacts players’ pockets today. In fact, when 19-year-old Coco Gauff was presented with her US Open–winning $3 million check in September, she thanked BJK, who was on stage with her, “for fighting for this.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how BJK champions the next generation. In 1974, she launched the aforementioned WSF, an organization dedicated to “enabl[ing] all girls and women to reach their potential in sports and life,” which they do through research, advocacy, and investing over $100M in access and opportunity initiatives.

And BJK’s not even close to being done. She was integral in orchestrating the recent merger between the PHF and the PWHPA, which helped birth the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) — the unified women’s pro league that fans and players have been clamoring for for years.

  • Finally, on a personal note, BJK (indirectly) helps support this very newsletter — in 2022, BJK Enterprises launched the Trailblazer Venture Studio, a group that supports startups focused on women and sports, including The GIST. Love it.

⚾🏈 Community heroes


While their on-field accomplishments were Hall of Fame–worthy, two greats will forever be remembered for their off-field impacts: MLB’s Roberto Clemente and the NFL’s Walter Payton, who both have service awards given in their name each year.

A 15-time All-Star and humanitarian, Clemente was tirelessly dedicated to charity work, holding free baseball clinics for children in Puerto Rico, raising funds for children’s hospitals in Pittsburgh, and so much more.

  • Clemente’s life was tragically cut short at age 38 when his plane crashed en route to deliver earthquake aid to Nicaragua. But his legacy lives on through MLB’s Roberto Clemente Award, a recognition that means something more for today’s players.

Over on the gridiron, Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton is widely regarded as one of the best players, and humans, of all time. The man nicknamed “Sweetness” launched a charitable foundation in 1988 that still provides support to children and veterans throughout Chicago to this day.

  • After his playing days and Hall of Fame induction, Payton was diagnosed with a rare liver disease, inspiring him to advocate for greater awareness surrounding organ donation before his death in 1999.
  • Payton’s work continues today through his family’s charitable efforts and the annual bestowing of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. A true game-changer.

🏀 Not just a kid from Akron, Ohio


The only thing more impressive than LeBron’s 21-year on-court dominance is his off-court commitment to building a better world, starting with his hometown: Akron, Ohio. The four-time NBA champ founded the LeBron James Family Foundation (LJFF) in 2004, intent on transforming the community that took care of him during his tumultuous childhood.

  • The LJFF started small, giving away bikes and backpacks, but has grown exponentially. Today, it supports its own public school and provides families rent-free housing, and it plans to build even more affordable units in the future.

LeBron, who’s worth an estimated $1B, reportedly intends to donate at least 10% of his wealth in his lifetime — and he’s making good on that promise. In 2015, he pledged up to $42M to the University of Akron to support local students with four-year scholarships.

  • LeBron didn’t attend college — drafted as the NBA’s No. 1 pick straight out of Akron’s St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in 2003 — and spent much of his youth sleeping on friend’s couches, which impacted his own education.
  • So today, the crux of his philanthropy focuses on schooling, an effort to ensure the kids of Akron don’t face the same barriers he did. King James, indeed.