Tom is founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, the mission of which is to convene leaders, facilitate dialogue, and inspire solutions that can help sports serve the public interest. Since 2011, the program has provided thought leadership on topics including the future of college sports, athlete advocacy, the legacy of Title IX, and the role of sports in addressing climate change.
The program’s signature initiative is Project Play, which develops, applies and shares knowledge to build healthy children and communities through sports. Since 2013, strategies advanced through Project Play have inspired hundreds of organizations to take mutually reinforcing actions, governments from the federal to county levels to introduce new policies, and foundations to unlock shape more than $60 million in grants for grassroots programs. The initiative’s #DontRETIREKid media campaign in 2020 won 37 international awards including Clios, Cannes Lions and a Halo Award. Inspired by Project Play, other countries including Mexico and Romania have launched related initiatives.
The New York Times describes Tom 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 breakthrough frameworks, ideas, tools and stories. He has been a keynote speaker and moderator at many major conferences, including, in 2022, the Aspen Ideas Festival, the World Summit on Ethics & Leadership in Sports in India, the TAFISA World Congress in Slovenia, and the first White House Conference on Health, Hunger and Nutrition in 50 years.
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 develop the website that later became ESPN.com. He then became the first reporter to produce cross-platform enterprise reports. His investigations over two decades helped grow the reputation of the television show Outside the Lines and won 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, ABC’s World News Tonight, and Good Morning America. Since leaving ESPN in 2017, he has written for the Times and other outlets.
As a convener and storyteller, the guiding principles of his work have been truth (best as we can discern) and progress (best as we can deliver). His reporting on football safety, the torture of Iraqi athletes, and the ethics of drug testing have won top awards from the Black Journalists Association, Asian American Journalists Association, and the Women’s Sports Foundation. He is best known for his insights on the base of our sport ecosystem, 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.”
Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children, a 2008 book by Tom, continues to be used as a text on university campuses. Then-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 a network of more than 20,000 organizations that touch the lives of children.
A graduate of the University of Florida, Tom lives in Southern California.
Learn more about Tom at his website.