Show me the money: how successful are athlete charities?

Published On February 24, 2013 | By Tyler Scionti

While many famous athletes are often praised for their charitable work and non-profit startups, a closer look reveals that perhaps there is much less to praise than initially meets the eye.

Josh Beckett was run out of Boston for his bad attitude and inability to take responsibility for his actions, but one thing you could not say about him was that he was not generous with his time and money. The annual “Beckett Bowl” has become a fixture in the Red Sox organization and media alike. The most recent event raised around $100,000, all dedicated to the Boston Children’s hospital. But according to a Boston Globe review of IRS filings,  only a small portion of that money actually goes to charity.

How small of a portion? 37 percent. Yes, just 37 cents on the dollar actually went to the Boston Children’s hospital, calling into question where the rest of the money went. It’s not so malicious as Josh Beckett padding his multi-million dollar contract; it’s a bit more complicated than that.

To put it simply, most athletes who start their own charities don’t have much experience in running a non-profit in the first place. Looking at IRS filings across the board, the Globe found mismanagement and irresponsibility everywhere, calling into question many of the good deeds promoted by numerous PR departments.

It gets worse than that though: Alex Rodriguez headed a foundation that only gave 1 percent of its earnings to charity and eventually stopped filling out mandatory IRS forms. It subsequently lost its tax exempt status.

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

It’s not that Beckett was taking that $100,000 to the local chicken shack near Fenway; it’s that far too much of the money goes towards booking events and overpaying staff.

The executive director of the Beckett family foundation, Jason Oberle (Beckett’s childhood friend) makes $500,000 for his 20-hour workweek involvement, although he claims it is a “conservative estimate.” Such is an example of the mismanagement involved in far too many of these charities.

Fear not though, as many athletes work with established non profits. For example, Tom Brady is very active with the Make A Wish Foundation, and since experienced non-profit workers run the foundation, it is more likely that the money he raises is going to a good cause and not to needless spending.

Some athletes such as Rajon Rondo and Michael Phelps start their own non-profits but put the right people in charge to ensure that the money is going where it is advertised. It’s a shame that so many charities end up doing very little real good, but there are those out there that put their money to good use rather than pricey events and publicity.

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About The Author

Hi I'm Tyler Scionti, I'm a member of the class of 2015 at the College of the Holy Cross where I study English and Economics. At school I cover a variety of sports while also writing a beat column on the Boston Red Sox.