December 1, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Athlete-Philanthropists

Many sports stars use their millions and their fame to help others

A foundation by Yankees' Derek Jeter, seen here at a clinic in Florida in 2007, promotes academic excellence. (Photo: AP) A foundation by Yankees' Derek Jeter, seen here at a clinic in Florida in 2007, promotes academic excellence. (Photo: AP)

For every athlete caught doing something nasty—drinking and driving, fighting, dropping a gun in a crowded bar—there are many more who use their free time to help others through charitable work.

Athletes are often moved to back a cause because of a personal connection. Lance Armstrong’s epic comeback from cancer has spawned a nation of wristband wearers. Quarterback Doug Flutie’s son is autistic and was the catalyst for the formation of Dougie’s Team. Magic Johnson’s foundation naturally started as a way to educate people about HIV/AIDS. 

It’s easy to be cynical and dismiss all this philanthropy as so much image making, or as a way to cut their tax bills and give jobs to family members and hangers-on, but AdvisorOne believes that most of the efforts are sincere (and even they aren’t, it doesn’t hurt to help a good cause).

As a kickoff to Thursday's Year-End Philanthropy Special Report on advisors and their clients running throughout December (see the coverage so far here), we present our favorite 10 charitable athletes.

Doug Flutie with the the Buffalo Bills in 199810. Doug Flutie Sr.:
Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism

Doug Flutie was an exciting quarterback for Boston College. He was small (5’10) and used his ability to elude bigger defenders to make astonishing plays. One 1984 play was so magical it bears his name: the “Hail Flutie.” The last-second bomb carried the Eagles past the Miami Hurricanes and cemented Flutie’s legend as the little quarterback who could. 

And Flutie, with his wife, Laura, has used that fame to help families get the help they need for their autistic children. The Fluties’ son, Doug Jr., was diagnosed with the developmental disability when he was 3. The foundation has raised more than $13 million since 1998 and more than 80% of its funds go directly to programs.

Jeff Gordon in 20089. Jeff Gordon:
Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation

One of the top NASCAR drivers for more than two decades, Jeff Gordon has won acclaim as a four-time Sprint Cup Series champ and as Daytona 500 winner three times.

But it was the challenge faced by a member of his crew whose son battled leukemia that spurred Gordon to start a foundation to help children with cancer. The foundation spends more than $1.4 million yearly through grants and work at the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital in Concord, N.C.

Tiger Woods at Frys.com Open in 20118. Tiger Woods:
Tiger Woods Foundation

It would have been easy to leave Tiger Woods off this list. His problems are well documented: the string of extra-marital affairs; the Thanksgiving night row with his wife that led to a car crash that sullied his image; and the decline in his game.

The Tiger Woods Foundation has as its mission to help underserved children get a college education. Through scholarships and Tiger Woods Learning Centers in Washington, D.C., and Southern California, the foundation has helped give students a chance to get ready for, and then pay for college.

Raising money through events including golf tournaments, the foundation has an impressive score on CharityNavigator.com, which says it spends 93.5% of its money on programming.

Mia Hamm at a California soccer clinic in 20077. Mia Hamm:
Mia Hamm Foundation 

Mia Hamm was at the top of the soccer word: A gifted player helping Team USA reach the top, her ponytail swishing through the air as she made spectacular plays. There was even a Barbie doll crafted in her image.

She made more headlines when she married baseball star Nomar Garciaparra in 2003. Behind the scenes, Hamm started her eponymous charity, which is dedicated to raising funds and awareness for families needing marrow or cord blood transplants and continuing the growth of opportunities for young women in sports.

Both are near to her heart, the former because she lost a brother to aplastic anemia. Her foundation has raised more than a million dollars through charity events like celebrity soccer games. It makes grants to various medical institutions, including the SECU Family House at the University of North Carolina Medical Center.

Andre Agassi at his farewell tour in 20106. Andre Agassi:
Andre Agassi Foundation for Education

Andre Agassi’s story from wild child of tennis who squandered his talent all the way to beloved elder statesman has been well documented by him and others. His autobiography gave fans a look at a kid who gave up his chance at an education as he bent to the will of an overbearing father. 

Once Agassi came to grips with his unhappy childhood, he started his foundation, which aims to make sure kids get a chance at an education. To that end, Agassi conceived and built Agassi Prep, a charter school in his hometown, Las Vegas. The charity took in $25 million in 2009, with 73% of that money going directly to programs.

Derek Jeter smacking his 3000th hit in 20115. Derek Jeter:
Turn 2 Foundation

Derek Jeter has led a charmed life with the New York Yankees. The captain of the team is lauded as a clutch player who leads by example on the field and off. He has been the heart and soul of five World Series champions. This season he rapped out his 3,000th hit.

But right from his rookie season in 1996, Jeter knew he wanted to help others. That’s when he decided he wanted to start a foundation. His focus would be on children and helping them lead healthy lifestyles.

Over the years, Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation has distributed more than $12 million to “create outlets that promote and reward academic excellence, leadership development, and positive behavior.”

During his career, Jeter has turned two on the infield countless times. And all along his Turn 2 has been making the big plays in life to help others.

Ali landing a punch against Joe Frazier in 19744. Muhammad Ali:
Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center

He may have been “the greatest,” but for all his floating like a butterfly, Muhammad Ali took some brutal beatings during his amazing career. All those shots took a toll, and possibly contributed to his being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Ali, once considered the most famous person in the world, has used his fame to help others with the disease. The Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center was established in Phoenix in 1997. An expansion project in 2009 doubled the size of the center to 10,000 square feet. An annual celebrity fight night hosted by Ali and his wife has raised millions for the cause. More than 800 patients are treated each year at the center, a National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence, and 2,000 take part in classes.

The former heavyweight champ also established the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., which is dedicated to preserving and sharing his ideals and promoting respect, hope and understanding.

Cal Ripken at clinic in China in 20073. Cal Ripken Jr.:
Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation

Cal Ripken Jr. is baseball’s modern day ironman. Known for a Herculean work ethic that allowed him to play in a record 2,632 consecutive games, he helped revive the game after a bitter strike.

Ripken has brought that same ethos to his charity work. His foundation, named for his father who was a coach and manager for Junior’s Baltimore Orioles, seeks to help disadvantaged children through baseball and softball programs.

In fiscal 2010 alone, the charity took in more than $8 million, allowing it partner with cities from Maryland to Texas to build Youth Development Parks, which are designed to give young people a safe place to play.

Magic driving past Bulls' Dennis Rodman in 19962. Magic Johnson:
Magic Johnson Foundation 

Magic Johnson was a basketball icon: Within four seasons he had won a state high school basketball title, an NCAA hoops championship in a titanic match-up with Larry Bird and an NBA title with the Lakers.

And then came the news in 1991 that transcended sports: Magic had contracted HIV. The superstar turned the devastating news into a teaching moment, educating the nation about a disease that at the time sparked fear among many people.

As he waged a personal battle with the disease and even made a celebrated comeback to the NBA, he declared a broader war with the establishment of the Magic Johnson Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to not only to educate people about HIV/AIDS, but also to improve urban communities.

Over the years, it has helped hundreds of thousands of people through scholarships, outreach programs, the purchase of technology for classrooms and the distribution of toys at an annual holiday party.

Now that’s a comeback worthy of a superstar.

Lance Armstrong at a race in Texas in 20061. Lance Armstrong:
Lance Armstrong Foundation 

Lance Armstrong’s celebrated battle with testicular cancer and subsequent rise to the top of the cycling world with a record seven victories at the Tour de France, became the bully pulpit for a foundation that has raised more than $400 million to help cancer survivors and their families. The foundations says 81% of the money it receives goes directly to its programs.

Donors to the foundation can be spotted by the yellow wristbands bearing the LIVESTRONG legend. Even as Armstrong fends off accusations that he used performance-enhancing drugs while competing, it’s undeniable that his philanthropic group has helped ease the pain of millions through contributions that reached nearly $41 million in 2009.

(All photos by The Associated Press)

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Top 10 lists from AdvisorOne:

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