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PHILANTHROPY

Leonard Fournette Does it for New Orleans

“I know what it feels like to not have anyone backing you up,” the Bucs running back tells Boardroom. “We have to look out for the kids… It’s in me to give back.”

Leonard Fournette has made a name for himself rumbling down sidelines and juking would-be tacklers since he was a freshman in high school. He’s even got a Super Bowl ring on his finger. But away from the gridiron, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back has cultivated an even more profound, lasting reputation.

He’s a man whose generosity shines through in dark and trying times.

A New Orleans native who played his college ball down the road at LSU, Fournette was quick to act after Hurricane Ida ravaged his city. He donated $100,000 to local relief efforts and additionally recruited several members of the Bucs organization to pitch in themselves.

AccuWeather estimates the total damage of the storm, which progressed from Louisiana all the way up to New York, at approximately $95 billion. Only six hurricanes have done more damage than Ida — that includes Hurricane Katrina, a storm that Fournette lived through at age 10.

That experience helped shape his desire to help those in need.

“I know what it feels like to not have anyone backing you up or have any support,” Fournette told Boardroom. “Donating the money was something immediate that I wanted to do [because] the first thing that came to my mind was Katrina. So me and my team got together and put together a fundraiser for the people in New Orleans for food, pampering for kids, and more. We have to look out for the kids because they are our next generation and they are the future.”

Teammates Tom Brady and linebacker Shaq Barrett, Buccaneers co-owner Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, and the NFL Foundation all stepped in to help Fournette’s efforts. Brady donated $50,000, the Foundation gave $25,000, Glazer Kassewitz contributed $15,000, and Barrett gave $5,000.

That totals $95,000 in addition to Fournette’s six-figure pledge.

“It means a lot to have an organization behind me,” Fournette said. “Knowing that no matter what is going on, your teammates and owner have your back is a generous thing and I feel appreciative for any and everything they try to help me with.” 

This was far from the first time Fournette has used his reach and resources to lift up the community that raised him. In 2015, the former Bayou Bengal auctioned off a game-worn jersey from his college days went for $101,000 after floods wracked South Carolina. Two years later, he donated $50,000 in response to Hurricane Harvey. In April 2020 he gave away 56,000 meals in two months.

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He’s very much in tune with the struggles others face every day, but Fournette’s own experience with adversity didn’t end when the NFL checks started cashing. Coming off his best season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team surprisingly declined his fifth-year option and cut him in May of 2020. He then signed with Tampa Bay, where he expected to start, but ultimately took a backseat to Ronald Jones II.

At first, frustration flooded his mind. Things changed toward the end of the season as he accepted his role and helped the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl. 

For most running backs in today’s NFL, your biggest payday comes after your rookie deal. With Fournette being cut before he had the opportunity to be offered an extension his situation is different. He re-signed with the Bucs on a one-year, $4 million contract in late March. Still, he’ll be looking for another contract at the end of this season.

“Everyone goes through their own situations,” Fournette said. “I know it is a young man’s game, but my job as a running back is to stay on my p’s and q’s. You have to be starving and come into this wanting to be competitive. What’s helped me is always trying to compete with my teammates.”

That mindset has paid off. This season, Fournette has the most touches of any running back on the Bucs. And at only 26 years old, he figures to have a lot of football in front of him in order to earn the contract he’s ultimately looking for. 

But critically, had the NCAA allowed Fournette and thousands of other athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness during his time in Baton Rouge, he believes he may already have had millions before stepping onto an NFL field. 

“I was talking to my parents about how much I would have made and to keep it real, I probably would have made $5 million a season,” he said. “My freshman year, I did okay. But after my sophomore year when I rushed for 1,000 yards in five games, I definitely would’ve made some bread.”

He may not have been able to kick-start the process as a teenager, but Fournette isn’t neglecting opportunities to build an off-the-field brand. He told Boardroom that he’s involved in real estate, but insists on doing research on a number of different fronts before he pulls the trigger on an investment.

While Fournette’s second life as a mogul continues to ripen in the vine, he’s focused on the things he does best: helping his community, his team, and the next generation of young athletes in any way he can. For Leonard Fournette, serving his community is every bit as natural as running a toss sweep.

And he plans to do a whole lot of both in the months and years to come.

“It’s who I am, to work hard, care, and [show] love for the people,” he said. “It’s in me to give back.”