How Professional Sports Can Impact A Community

Through community and philanthropy, professional sports can change lives

Professional sports are about more than just entertainment. It’s a connection that people have to their community and to their region. It’s loyalty to a team that crosses generations. When we won the World Series in 2004, for example, people were coming to the team store to buy Boston Red Sox pennants to hang on the graves of their parents and grandparents, who didn’t have the opportunity to see the Red Sox win the World Series. That’s when you know you’re doing something that has value.

So when my partners and I acquired the club in 2002, we made a commitment that we would be good citizens. We consider ourselves to be custodians of this baseball team and we’re trying to do what’s right by this community. For example, at the time, many people believed that this club could have done better financially by building a new ballpark on the Boston waterfront. But there’s something iconic about Fenway Park; some people have called it a cathedral. So part of our job, as someone who’s protecting a cathedral, is to make sure you pass it along to the next generation in good shape. That meant modernizing Fenway Park—putting in more amenities and more toilets and more concessions, closing down Yawkey Way and making it into a kind of street carnival before the game.
We made a commitment that we would be good citizens.

The Red Sox have a huge opportunity to do good in the community because the brand is so respected and appreciated. We do that through the Red Sox Foundation, which is the team’s official charity. We started it in 2002, and since then we’ll have raised and distributed some $82 million. But not everyone knows all that we do, so to give just a few examples:

We have an extraordinary partnership with the Jimmy Fund, which raises money for cancer care and research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Since 2002, the Red Sox team and Foundation have helped the Jimmy Fund raise over $50 million. The Red Sox/WEEI/ NESN Radio-telethon alone has raised over $35 million for the Jimmy Fund.

We run a program called Red Sox Scholars
Every year, the Red Sox Foundation selects 10 academically gifted 7th graders from Boston public schools who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Upon high school graduation, we provide a $10,000 college scholarship. To date we have selected 250 students to be part of the program.

Our Home Base program is a partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital to help military men and women who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with their families.
The program provides clinical care, support services, clinical and community education and conducts research to improve the treatment and understanding of PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

We try to involve both the players and their wives as much as possible
In late September, for example, a number of the Red Sox Wives hosted a fashion show at Saks Fifth Avenue in Boston’s Prudential Center to raise money for Red Sox Scholars and another program, RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), which uses baseball to promote healthy choices and life skills among inner city kids.
To me, it’s important to be an engaged citizen—if you have the means to make the world a slightly better place, you should do so. But this philanthropy has a special impact coming from the Red Sox. Our fans know that this isn’t always a team that’s going to finish in first place, but it is a team that cares about you. I think, in the mission of the Red Sox Foundation, we’ve demonstrated that.

Tom Werner is chairman of the Boston Red Sox.