3 Athletes Who Changed the World Through Philanthropy

Douglas Healy
4 min readJan 11, 2022

Many successful athletes are incredibly generous philanthropists, giving away much of their wealth to help the less fortunate and create meaningful change in the world.

In this article, we look at three athletes who effected real change, championing the rights of the underserved and underprivileged, saving and enhancing lives.

1. Michael Phelps

Former competitive swimmer Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, having amassed 23 Olympic gold medals in an exceptional career in professional sports.

Throughout his career and into his retirement, Phelps has dedicated much of his time to the Michael Phelps Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting the sport of swimming to encourage people to embrace healthier lifestyles.

In July 2021, Michael Phelps gave an address at a Boys & Girls Clubs event, explaining to an impressionable young audience that, when he stopped competing in sports, he quickly realized he could no longer keep consuming the same number of calories he once did. Phelps famously consumed 10,000 calories a day at his professional peak. He explained that when he stopped training, he stopped burning all of that energy, and quickly started to gain weight, echoing an increasing problem throughout America today, as lifestyles become increasingly sedentary, triggering a range of health problems in the US population.

Michael Phelps’ personal anecdotes were part of a wider message, helping children to recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and taking part in physical activities. Phelps and his wife, Nicole, gave children tips on building their own snack packs incorporating healthy foods, as well as imparting skills to help ensure their mental health was thriving, too.

Michael Phelps has always been generous in terms of giving back to society. He established the Michael Phelps Foundation in 2008, funding it with a $1 million cash bonus he received from Speedo.

1. Serena Williams

Olympic gold medal-winning tennis star Serena Williams revolutionized women’s tennis, winning more Grand Slam singles titles than any other player, male or female, in the Open era.

Having established the Serena Williams Foundation, an organization that focuses on helping children from impoverished families to gain the educational opportunities they need to make it through college and create fulfilling, successful careers, Williams took up the role of UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, supporting the education of children in developing countries.

In this role, Serena Williams championed UNICEF’s Schools for Africa Initiative, targeted to improving educational opportunities for marginalized and vulnerable children. More recently, Williams lent her support to the #EveryChildAlive campaign, advocating for affordable, quality healthcare for every mother and baby.

Serena Williams hopes to leverage her considerable social media following to highlight causes for children, particularly in education. She promised to bring the focus she shows on the court to her role with UNICEF, making a lasting impression, and helping children access the educational opportunities they need to succeed.

Prior to accepting the role of UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Williams provided funding for schools and life-saving immunization programs in Africa, in addition to supporting the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and Hearts of Gold, along with many other worthy causes.

3. Marcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford is a UK soccer star making waves across the Atlantic. Born in Manchester, England, Rashford plays for the Premier League team, Manchester United, as well as the England squad.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and before, Rashford has been an outspoken advocate for children experiencing poverty and food insecurity, lambasting the UK government and policymakers into “doing the right thing.” Marcus Rashford put his weight behind several child food poverty incentives, ultimately raising $27 million from grocery store donations, making him the youngest person to top the Sunday Times Giving List.

Vehemently defending children’s rights via social media, Rashford forced a series of U-turns by the UK government, forcing them to make provisions for children who received school meals to ensure they did not go hungry because of school closures. As part of Marcus Rashford’s partnership with Burberry, the fashion company made a series of sizable donations to youth clubs and charities, including Norbrook Youth Club in Manchester, a facility Rashford attended as a child.

Marcus Rashford lobbied the UK government relentlessly to make provisions for children missing out on school meals throughout the school holidays in 2020. Ultimately, his efforts culminated in $231 million in extra funding, ensuring that the UK’s most vulnerable children did not go hungry throughout the pandemic.

In the UK, Rashford’s humanitarian work positioned him as a beacon of light in the darkest of times. Having donated $27 million to charities, he has effectively given away 125% of his personal wealth. At the age of 23, Marcus Rashford has done more to support young people in the UK than any other athlete in British history, fearlessly championing the rights of the underprivileged and fighting tirelessly to ensure that no child goes hungry.



Douglas Healy

Douglas Healy is a Springfield, Missouri-based attorney with nearly 20 years of legal experience.