The New York Times describes Tom Farrey as a leader dedicated to improving the world through sports. Over four decades, working with trailblazing organizations in media and sports, he has been a builder – of essential knowledge, pioneering ideas, original tools, shared strategies, and a cross-sector movement to grow the quality and quantity of recreation opportunities in communities everywhere.
In 2011, Tom founded the Sports & Society Program to convene leaders, facilitate dialogue and inspire solutions that can help sports serve the public interest. Two years later, Project Play, its signature initiative, was launched to help stakeholders build healthy communities. Since then, its reports and data have shaped the national conversation about the value of sports for children and the gaps facing vulnerable populations. Hundreds of organizations have used Project Play’s framework of eight strategies for the eight sectors that touch the lives of kids to introduce new programs, partnerships, and grant-making. Government agencies from the federal to the county levels have developed new policies. Most important, declines in national sport participation rates were reversed.
The San Diego Union has called Project Play “the conscience of youth sports” with its ethos of fostering joy and opportunities for all children, regardless of zip code or ability. In 2017, Tom brought together professional leagues and other industry-leading organizations to develop shared actions aligned with the goals of Project Play. In 2020, they introduced Don’t Retire, Kid, the largest media campaign in the history of youth sports, to draw attention to the causes of early attrition rates. Launched on ESPN with the help of Kobe Bryant, the campaign won several major international awards, including a 2020 Halo Award, North America’s highest honor for corporate social impact initiatives, and four Clio awards, the top honor in advertising. Inspired by Project Play, other countries, including Mexico and Romania, have launched related initiatives.
Tom came to Aspen from ESPN, where his work as a journalist was recognized for its innovation and excellence. In 1996, he joined the internet startup Starwave as deputy editor, helping to develop the website that later became ESPN.com. In 1998, he became the first reporter to produce cross-platform enterprise reports. His ESPN investigations over two decades helped build the reputation of the television show Outside the Lines, winning many national honors, including two Sports Journalism Emmys, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and a 2014 Alfred I. duPont/Columbia University Award — ESPN’s first. His reports also appeared on E:60, SportsCenter, ABC’s World News Tonight, Good Morning America, and This Week with George Stephanopolous. Since leaving ESPN in 2017, he has written for the New York Times and helped host an Olympics podcast for Vox/NBC Sports.
As an analyst and convener, Tom explores themes that often are ahead of their time. His reports on football safety, the torture of Iraqi athletes, and drug testing won top awards from the Black Journalists Association, Asian American Journalists Association, and the Women’s Sports Foundation, respectively. He is best known for his work on college and youth sports reform, with The Nation writing that Tom “has done more than any reporter in the country to educate all of us about the professionalization of youth sports.”
His 2008 book Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children, has been used as a text on many university campuses. Columnist Robert Lipsyte called Game On the “Silent Spring of sports: the book that launches a movement to protect a natural resource. In this case, our children.” That movement became Project Play, now recognized by stakeholders as a vital asset in realizing the promise of sports.
When not identifying problems or mobilizing leaders to solve them, Tom, a graduate of the University of Florida now living in Southern California, can be found enjoying several sports, reminding himself of what it was like to be a kid.
Learn more about Tom at his website.