Athletes’ Charities: What Part Self Promotion?

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January 17, 2011; Source: The Dallas Morning News | A recent review by The Dallas Morning News of charities sponsored by local athletes and sports teams found that more than half missed “efficiency goals suggested for the nation's best large charities,” according to the paper. Part of the problem say observers, is that too many young athletes set up their own nonprofit rather than working through already established entities.

The proposition of setting up one’s own foundation appears to have a number of benefits for young players beyond simply “giving back” to the community or even burnishing a player’s image. It theoretically could also provide a way to acquire management skills and network among other leaders who are also often involved in philanthropy.

For instance, Michael Bennett, who has two sons in the NFL, says setting up a nonprofit is often a mix of charity and self-promotion. "If you're running a foundation, you'll make the right connects . . . Sometimes when you're a professional athlete, especially as a Dallas Cowboy, when you come off that football field, doors are open to you."

Unfortunately, when the charitable purpose is not front and center, the potential for problems is great. Greg Johnson of the Sports Philanthropy Project in Boston says, "This is usually about burnishing their image because their marketing agency is telling them, 'You need the whole package, and philanthropy is part of it. Then we can put you on the front of the Wheaties box . . . But if you're taking the good marketing and good branding for doing nothing, that's a problem, even if it's done by mistake."

Bradie James, a player with the Dallas Cowboys, wisely used the Baton Rouge Community Foundation as an aid when he first started his charity to benefit women with breast cancer, a disease that his mother died from. As the charity grew he created a separate foundation. He advises that athletes need to take “control” of their philanthropy instead of being force fed the prospect. "It happens a lot," he said. "People associate themselves with causes and really don't have any passion behind it."—Ruth McCambridge

  • Betsy

    I really like what Bradie James had to say concerning this, and that he is a good example of taking the reins of your own philanthropy. There is nothing wrong with wanting to help others, but when it is all being done to get your name out there with little regard for the nonprofits purpose, people who are willing to give and to help others are going to get burnt and not want to reach out to their communities anymore.