Brady vs. James, Off the Field

Tom Brady and LeBron James are surely the greatest of their generation, but are they the greatest off the field too?

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The world marveled as Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl on February 7, 2021, a mind-boggling 10th appearance in the big game. His dominance is unparalleled in modern football, and it has become clear that he is the greatest ever to play the game.

The next night, LeBron James logged a triple-double in an overtime win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It moved James’s Lakers to 19-6, second in the Western Conference of the NBA. The Lakers are the Las Vegas favorites not only to reach the NBA Finals, but also to win them. If they do, it would be James’s fifth win in 11 appearances. It would also crown him as one of, if not, the greatest basketball players to ever grace the court.

It is no question that Brady and James are some of the most dominant athletes of our time. They have garnered insane amounts of influence and money throughout their careers. Such success begs the big question: what have they done for their community, and could they be doing more?

LeBron James

Soon after he was originally drafted, James started the LeBron James Family Foundation, which remains the pinnacle of his charitable efforts. According to their website, “The LeBron James Family Foundation invests its time, resources, and passion into creating generational change for the kids and families of James’s hometown in Akron, Ohio through a focus on education and co-curricular educational initiatives.”

This initiative is a reflection of James’s own childhood. Born in Akron to a 16-year-old single mother, he grew up without much stability at home. They moved up to six times when James was in fourth grade, and he missed almost 100 days of school that same year. This situation changed when he met Bruce Kelker, the local football coach, who let James and his mother move in with him and taught James how to play football. Later that year, James moved again, this time to the home of Frank Walker, his local basketball coach. Walker enrolled him in school, made sure he went every day, and started facilitating his love for basketball. This structure gave him the discipline to not only become an NBA superstar, but also turn into the savvy businessman that he has become.

Today, James’s foundation works with 1,500 kids ages eight to 18. Its efforts all start with his I Promise School, which has long hours and works to create well-rounded children with the tools to succeed. Additionally, the foundation has implemented a support system to ensure that all students have stable home environments. The crown jewel of this structure is the I Promise Village. The village gives homes to students’ families facing homelessness, domestic violence, and other circumstances. It also helps families create a recovery plan, and most importantly, keeps children in school. During COVID-19, the foundation's work has expanded. It has started providing food to families in the program, ensuring that the students can still thrive despite their circumstances. Lastly, the program has worked with Akron University and Kent State University to provide the students with full scholarships that will allow them to get educated, get good jobs, and raise children to do the same. James wants to leave his hometown in better shape than he found it, and he is certainly delivering.

The foundation has also left its mark through grants to different programs, including several that are very important to James. According to the foundation’s 990 forms (required tax forms that show how non-profits allotted their money), from 2015 to 2018 (latest available), he has given over $400 thousand to his alma mater, St. Vincent–St. Mary High School. He has also given over $1 million to Akron public schools, provided funding for a recreational basketball league, and made several other grants.

James has also tried to make an impact on a larger scale. He has made massive donations to the Boys and Girls Club of America, After-School All-Stars, the Children’s Defense Fund, and ONEXONE as well. His dedication to helping children reach their full potential is clear and has spanned his whole career. His biggest donation was a $2.5 million donation to the National Museum of African American History to fund an exhibit on Muhammad Ali. "Muhammad Ali is such a cornerstone of me as an athlete because of what he represented not only in the ring as a champion but more outside the ring—what he stood for, what he spoke for, his demeanor," James told USA TODAY Sports. The Ali exhibit aims to educate America about Ali’s legacy not only in the ring, but also with his extensive work for social justice.

Regarding his own relationship with social justice, James’s effort is immense, as he is a huge advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. His support came to the forefront after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. When the NBA wanted to resume the season, James, along with several others, ensured the focus remained on social equality both by putting social justice slogans on jerseys and the court and kneeling before games. James also focused his interviews on social justice and has continued to ensure the conversation moves forward. He has also tried to make a difference politically, campaigning in support of candidates he supported in the last four presidential elections and encouraging his supporters to vote through his organization More Than a Vote.

Tom Brady

Brady has two main charity efforts, the Change the World Foundation Trust and the TB12 foundation. Founded in 2006, the Change the World Foundation Trust makes grants to other organizations, primarily ones important to Brady. Similar to James’s 990 forms, the trust’s 990s indicate how much and to where they have donated. From 2015 to 2018 (latest available), the fund has made roughly $1.2 million in grants. From this sum, $300 thousand was given to the JBV Charitable fund, $100 thousand was given to Hurricane Harvey Relief, and $100 thousand was given to the TB12 foundation. Additionally, a total of about $160 thousand was given to Brady’s private alma mater high school, Junipero Serra, and his children’s private schools. The rest of the money is made up of donations to other charities, usually in the range of $10 thousand to $50 thousand. On the surface, this range may seem like a large amount of money for Brady to donate. However, Brady has only actually given $490 thousand to the trust. The vast majority of the trust, upwards of 80 percent, comes from Best Buddies International, for which Brady is a volunteer. Their donations have totaled $7.5 million, and they plan on donating an additional $500 thousand annually.

This relationship is bizarre, to say the least. While it is not unusual for charities to give money to each other, this arrangement is special. Not only does Best Buddies make up more of Brady’s funding than anyone, but their donation of $500 thousand is also more than their donations to any other foundation. For example, their 2015 donation was a staggering 2.5 times larger than their second biggest donation, which was to the ill-fated Kevin Spacey Foundation. The Change the World Foundation does a lot of good work, but it is unclear how much of it should really be attributed to Brady.

Brady’s other major venture is the TB12 foundation. According to its website, “The TB12 Foundation is a nonprofit organization […] Its mission is to help educate and inspire athletes to excel in both sports and life by providing access to innovative health and wellness resources that support preparation, performance and recovery. It empowers those at-risk to overcome economic or health-related obstacles to reach their performance goals.” While this charity has a good mission, it is still small. In their most recent 990 forms from 2018, the program only spent $322 thousand, which is small for the namesake foundation of a major athlete.

Brady also drives other efforts. He has donated to his teammates’ charities over the years and has partnered with Wheels Up to give over 750 thousand meals to the city of Tampa. However, his biggest effort is put into Best Buddies. According to Best Buddies, his support has raised tens of millions of dollars, which deserves to be applauded. However, it is not truly his money, which is the concerning part of Brady’s charity work. Brady has a net worth of $200 million, and his wife, supermodel Gisele Bündchen, is worth $400 million. It seems odd that Brady donates so little to both his foundation and others given his massive net worth.

James on his own is worth $500 million. He has stood up to this figure, donating millions of dollars and lots of time. According to his foundation’s 2018 tax filing, he still puts five hours a week into his foundation. He also uses his opportunities to support others. His production company, Springhill Entertainment, tells the stories of activists and underrepresented individuals. He has truly dedicated himself to making the world a better place.

Brady can learn a lot from James. The latter has a very focused effort, and not only does he work hard, but he also truly cares. He is helping others. Additionally, his activism for social justice and dedication to motivating people to vote can truly make a difference in communities.

On the other hand, Brady has always tried to stay clear of politics, and when asked about his support of former president Donald Trump, he has said they are “just friends.” He is not utilizing his voice or time, and it is a true shame that Brady doesn’t try to do more than fostering the exchange of money between charities. It is clear Brady is trying to put in effort to make a difference, but he can do so much more. He has plenty of money and influence. If he can utilize his success as an athlete like James does, he can truly be great.