Free Sport

The Charitable Burden of Professional Athletes

Would you rather the star player on your favorite team be a perennial all-star and multiple time champion, but basically be an a-hole, or be a little less talented, a little less driven, but be a pretty decent person? This is the question I found myself wondering after reading Callum Borchers’ recent article in the Boston Sunday Globe, “In nonprofit game, many athletes post losing records: Many athletes’ charities long on PR, short on donations.”

The article looks at several foundations and regularly-held charitable events associated with, if not named after various successful athletes, and finds that they “often raise surprisingly little money, overspend on fund-raising events, and direct small percentages of revenue toward their stated goals,” writes Borchers.

Part of this is because operating an effective issue-focused organization is difficult, as anyone who has worked in the non-profit sector knows only too well.

“Athletes’ charities are subject to many pitfalls because most of them are not trained to raise and distribute money,” says Sports Philanthropy Project’s executive director Greg Johnson. “A lot of them get into expensive golf tournaments and that kind of crap. They can be self-serving as hell.”

But, as Borchers notes, there’s more than the ego stroking of athletes going on here:

“Sports fans share some of the blame for the shortcomings of athletes’ foundations, [suggests] Mark S. Rosentraub, co-director of the Michigan Center for Sport Management and a faculty affiliate of the Nonprofit and Public Management Center at the University of Michigan. Rosentraub said athletes feel burdened by a societal expectations that they – blessed to make millions playing games – will “give back” by starting foundations that may be ill-equipped to lead.”

What is the value of a high-profile player bringing added attention to a particular cause? Is there more value in having an event, or foundation named after a certain player than in that player writing a check, or series of checks? How much worse is an ineffective organization than one that is well run?

I’m not sure. But it seems an awful lot for an athlete to negotiate.

To read the entire Globe article, click here.

© 2014 The Valley Advocate