Ugly Stuff: Tennis Star Sues Cancer Charity for Bounced Checks

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February 25, 2013; Source: USA TODAY

A USA TODAY headline reads: “Andy Roddick sues cancer charity for unpaid appearance fee.” As far as press from celebrity charity goes, that has to be one of the worst end results we’ve seen. How did it get to this point? The charity in question is the Miracle Match Foundation, and according to Roddick, it sent him two checks for $50,000—$100,000 total—to play in a tennis match for charity and hobnob with attendees at that match this past fall. According to the lawsuit filed by Andy R. Inc., the two checks bounced shortly thereafter.

It looks like the Miracle Match Foundation has had some significant management problems. The last year for which it filed an Internal Revenue Service Form 990 is 2004, but it now has regained its tax-exempt status with the IRS. According to Michigan’s WOOD-TV, Miracle Match founder and Grand Rapids, Mich.-based tennis pro Bill Przybysz filed for personal bankruptcy in 2010. He has reportedly been battling leukemia and he told WOOD that, while he was struggling with his health, the foundation was “dormant” for a number of years. Even going back to 2004, however, there are questions as to the charitable contributions of the foundation, as only $3,616 went to “sick kids/family support” in that year, while there was reportedly a negative balance of $377,000. Przybysz told WOOD-TV, “I have leukemia. I did my best.”

It’s unlikely that anyone would point to the Miracle Match Foundation as a poster child for consistent nonprofit management. That said, given that the Miracle Match Foundation was able to regain its IRS tax-exempt status, it would seem to be a legitimate charity (unless the IRS is doing a really terrible job with its certifications). As for Roddick’s lawsuit, we’re in no position to confirm or deny whether he was promised two $50,000 checks that he received and that then bounced. In one sense, it doesn’t matter that we’re talking about a charity here, and in another sense, it matters immensely. There is no question that charities should be held legally accountable if they break a contract just like any other organization. But unless Roddick has reason to believe that Miracle Match is running some sort of scam from which he wants to protect other people, what amazes us is that he thought it worthwhile to bring this case in the first place.

Pretend that you are a philanthropic advisor or public relations advisor to Andy Roddick. The tennis star comes to you and says that he lost out on $100,000 from a cancer charity event. Wouldn’t you point out that, in 2012, Forbes ranked Roddick as one of the world’s top-paid tennis stars and estimated that he earned $8.8 million? Given that income scale, wouldn’t you suggest that $100,000 or a principled stand isn’t worth headlines that will inevitably pit the wealthy tennis star against the cancer charity? In any case, we’ll keep an eye on this one. –Mike Keefe-Feldman

  • michael

    I disagree with you Mr. Feldman. $100,000 is worth fighting for, charity or not. Mr. Roddicks wealth has nothing to do with it. He agreed to appear for x amount. Checks bounced, the charity is lible.
    As far as a headline, why did you report it?

  • Doug

    This story is interesting because it raises several issues:

    1) An apparently informed non-profit journalist assuming IRS reinstatement = Good/solid/”legitimate” charity….um, what about when they originally lost their status?…that = bad charity. I don’t think you could get anyone at the IRS to describe what they do as “certifying” charities…
    2) Essentially arguing that it should be ok for bad charities to not fulfill their contracts, or at least that victims of unfulfilled contracts should not sue because of potential bad press….though they did actually show-up and fulfill their end of the bargain.
    3) What kind of “charity” pays anybody a $100,000 appearance fee….? I don’t think Bill Clinton or Beyonce would demand that level of payment from any “charity”….dumb idea, dumb governance.

  • Laura

    I dunno, I think it’s weird that a charity agreed to give an athlete $100K for an appearance; I also think it says something about Roddick that he only made the appearance because of the money. The whole thing stinks all around. That said, I love tennis, and I like Roddick; however, I like him a little less now.

  • Mike Keefe-Feldman

    Thanks to all who shared thoughts. One quick note: the article states, “There is no question that charities should be held legally accountable if they break a contract just like any other organization.”

  • Cregan Boyd

    Andy is correct in chasing hie money this guy owes me $100,000 as well from money loaned to him and contracts signed. I have chased him for three years and had cheques bounced as well. I am based in Ireland and he took money off another businessman as well.

    Go get him Andy.