We caught up with 25-year-old Brandon Bye from the New England Revolution to talk about growing up in America’s premier soccer league (Major League Soccer), why he’s helping low-income communities in the Dominican Republic via his Aspiras Foundation, and how to get involved yourself in philanthropy at an early age.
Here, our stand out moments from our 30-minute chat with the pro-baller.
d.RT: First off, congrats on the start of the new MLS season. How are you feeling after that … weird … 2020 season?
Brandon: Thanks. Yeah last season was interesting. They actually shut us down for a few months, then we did a bubble similar to the NBA down in Florida. Then we ended up actually having a normal playoffs season and my team, the New England Revolution, made it to the Eastern Conference Finals—before losing to Columbus. But it ended up being a pretty decent season for us considering we didn’t even know there would be a season at all. But we’re excited to see what this season has to bring.
d.RT: Cool. Yeah, we’re pumped about being spectators again. We’ve missed live sports—so we wish you and the Revs luck! So as you know, d.RT is a clothing brand for young men on the brink of manhood and our goal is to share the voices of notable young men doing exceptional things in their own communities via our platform. You of course came to our attention because of your deep involvement in philanthropy. Talk to us a little bit about how you came to giving back at such a young age?
Brandon: I learned the power of giving back pretty early on thanks to my parents. They taught me to always be grateful and to look out for people a lot less fortunate than myself. But in college actually was when I co-founded my non-profit foundation, the Aspiras Foundation, with one of my fellow students at Western Michigan University, Federico Tavarez. He came to me with an idea combining our joint love of soccer with his desire to help kids in his native country of the Dominican Republic. It started with us just generating donations for clothing and then it quickly turned in to something more than a clothing drive—it segued into teaching kids English and working with them through after-school programs and stuff like that.
d.RT: Good for your parents—and you! That’s pretty remarkable that you started doing something on that scale in college. What advice would you give young men, like you, who are touched by something in particular and are interested in giving back but have no idea where to start?
Brandon: I would say: Just start. It can be small—something is better nothing—but just get active in your community. Pay attention to calls for volunteers—like, maybe, at a soup kitchen at a local homeless shelter or donating an hour of your time to an after-school program nearby. Anything. Because once you get started, you’ll reap the rewards of being of service to others and it becomes self-fulfilling and it will lead to you wanting to give more of yourself—more of your time. At least that’s how it happened for me. I had a class in college that required 10 hours of volunteering and I ended up helping at an elementary school right next to my college and when my 10 hours were up—I ended up just doing more because I enjoyed it so much. I say: Just find your niche, and get after it.
d.RT: Great advice. And we agree: start small and follow the threads of the things that interest you first. For you, that was soccer and youth. Speaking of youth … walk us backwards for a minute. Talk to us a little about your beginnings. When and how did you realize that soccer was your future? When did you prioritize the sport as a legitimate career goal?
Brandon: I grew up in Portage, Michigan with two sisters—a twin sister and an older sister. And for as long as I can remember, my dad was a coach—first in many different sports at the high school level—but then he got into football and stayed in football throughout his 20+ years of coaching I think it was. So I’ve always had a coach as a dad—it’s kinda like a one-of-a-kind thing where he’s not just your dad—he’s also your coach. And he pushed me to play multiple sports, not just soccer. So I played basketball, soccer, football and baseball growing up—but I knew I was special at soccer early on even though I maybe enjoyed others more—particularly basketball. But once I was offered a scholarship to play soccer in college, I knew soccer was the one.
d.RT: What was your college experience like and what are your aspirations outside of—or beyond—soccer?
Brandon: I did finish my degree before entering the MLS draft. At the time, I was double majoring in food and consumer package goods marketing and integrated supply management. But I left after 3.5 years and was only able to finish the one business degree in FCPG—but I'm pleased with that. In my college years, I also interned at Kellogg’s for two years in sales and marketing roles and I really enjoyed those two summers working for a West Michigan-based company. It’s an interesting one … you never want your soccer career to end because it’s amazing but it's only natural to plan and think: “what’s life going to be like after soccer?” I’m still trying to figure those things out. I haven’t decided if I want to stay in soccer somehow or jump into the business world. My next steps are still up for discussion.
d.RT: Ok, TBD on your post-soccer life. But it sounds like you have options and interests outside of the sport. What three things do you think every young man should know how to do before they leave home?
Brandon: I would say, the number one thing is to learn how to be confident in your own skin—love yourself! Secondly, you should be able to cook a couple basic meals. My mom helped me with that one—but I will say knowing your way around the kitchen, even a little, will help you big time. Lastly, understanding your finances. I suggest mastering the simple principles of how much you have/earn and how much you can spend versus need to save.
d.RT: Yes! We second mastering budgeting 101. Now, who or what inspires you?
Brandon: My family inspires me and pushes me to new levels. Also, trying to reach my full potential inspires me. I am constantly pushing myself to do more and to accomplish new goals.
d.RT: So while you have this platform as a pro-athlete—are there any particular social justice movements or causes that you feel called to use your voice to amplify?
Brandon: Everything that happened last summer with George Floyd definitely pushed me to speak up. There was a group of guys in MLS that came together last year and started Black Players for Change. It's basically a coalition encouraging players throughout the league in different markets to be active in change. Racism and Black Lives Matter are tough subjects to talk about but they have to be talked about—so I’m proud to be a part of the conversation. The organization really emphasizes locality—so players are really focused on making a difference in their specific markets. So, for example, in Boston we're really focusing on building mini-pitches in urban areas that could benefit from them. We’re also going to launch something this year centered around supporting and promoting black-owned businesses—that hopefully will kickstart a movement. But overall, I’m just really pumped to get back to all the Revs-run camps and educational programs this summer that were essentially put on hold, or cancelled, last year because of Covid-19.
d.RT: That’s awesome. Well if you didn’t know, d.RT is a black-owned business itself … so it looks like you already kicked off your movement by supporting us. So thank you! But let's jump from social causes to your social identity. What is your level of desire to be fashionable? And what was the first big fashion purchase you made on your own? Do you remember purchasing your first suit?
Brandon: I think I’ve always tried to be as fashionable as possible throughout high school, college, and now in to my professional career. Once you actually have a full-time job and you have income coming in, you can figure out what you want your style to be be and how you want to look. I mean, for me, there is always cameras with us as we’re walking into stadiums, or getting on planes and whatnot—so I always want to present myself in the best way possible. I’m a pretty business casual, laid-back guy but I do like to put on a suit and tie for a game too. It all depends on how I feel on gameday. As for my first big splurge, I took my time building a wardrobe and just bought myself a few nice things here and there. I got my first suit in high school but I remember getting a really nice suit in college. I think I was maybe 20 or 21-years-old and that was when it went from, “Ok, I have a decent suit,” to more like, “Oh yeah, I like the way I look in this and I want to wear it often.”
d.RT: Does the league have a set dress code for gamedays or is it up to the team and/or player? And what is your go-to rig on matchday?
Brandon: Absolutely player dependent. It’s basically team by team based on what the coach decides, but our coach is pretty relaxed and lets us express ourselves in the way we want to. My go-to gameday look varies but maybe a summer game might be a short-sleeve button-up with a collar, some slacks and nice shoes—or something like that. Obviously we’re in Boston so when the cooler games hit, I like to show off layers and experiment with outwear pieces like jean jackets and bomber jackets.
d.RT: It sounds like every time you dress up on gameday you are not only dressing for yourself, but also for your team and the league. What do you wish someone told you as a rookie regarding style as it pertains to your profession?
Brandon: It was clear to me my rookie season that it was a big deal to dress nice. Luckily, I always paid attention to what I looked like and what I was wearing, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment for me. I think the big thing that I would say is that it’s okay to allow yourself to spend a little extra money on what you’re in to and what you want to look like. Invest in quality stuff and look the part when you have to. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, but I do think that quality is important.
d.RT: Any last morsels of wisdom you’d like to pass on? Maybe something you’ve learned about coming into adulthood?
Brandon: Enjoy the time that you have in whatever age—whatever season of life—that you are currently in. These things progress and pass by and you keep changing and evolving over time and so just enjoy where you are. Keep moving forward, keeping pushing yourself to do great things because everyone has it in them.