April 15, 2013

6 Bad Athlete Charities

All those good intentions don’t make foundations immune from mismanagement; maybe they should have hired better advisors

Lamar Odom takes a spill, much like his charity did. (Photo: AP) Lamar Odom takes a spill, much like his charity did. (Photo: AP)

Hardly a professional sporting event goes by without some mention of a foundation started by this athlete or that one. There is a certain logic to all those charitable pursuits. After all, more than a few sports figures are paid tens of millions and want to do some good with all that money.

Unfortunately, as reports like those by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” the New York Post and other media outlets show, the impulse to start a foundation doesn’t always work out the way it was intended.

When athletes start charities, they might not realize just how much work and expertise is needed to do it correctly. Some experts advise athletes to work with established charities, thus saving startup costs and overhead.

But the allure of a tax break, a public relations boost and helping out is just too much for some to resist. As with any charity, potential donors need to conduct due diligence before parting with their money.

Here is AdvisiorOne’s look at 6 Bad Athlete Charities, from A-Rod to Randy Moss.

Alex Rodriguez sitting in the Yankees dugout. (Photo: AP)Alex Rodriguez, MLB

The New York Yankees slugger is a headline machine on and off the field. Home runs and stellar defensive play have been overshadowed by use of performance-enhancing drugs, popcorn eating with his girlfriend, Cameron Diaz, and injuries. Then, in February, the Boston Globe reported that A-Rod’s charitable foundation wasn’t all it seemed to be. The foundation he started in 2006 raised $403,862 from a poker event he staged with Jay-Z.

Of that tidy sum, just $5,000 was distributed to a Jay-Z scholarship fund and $90 to a Little League baseball team in Miami. The IRS stripped the foundation of its nonprofit status. A-Rod had been quoted as saying he needed to rehabilitate his image after steroid allegations ran rampant.

Baron Davis (right) playing for the Knicks. (Photo: AP)Baron Davis, NBA

Baron Davis was a top-notch NBA guard, blossoming with the Golden State Warriors and helping lead the Los Angeles Clippers, among other teams. He’s credited with the longest made basket in league history, an 89-footer, and he has made forays into music and movies. Then there’s his charity, Team Play, which seeks to help kids learn life skills through basketball.

According to the “Outside the Lines” report, Davis took over a Magic Johnson charity event in 2006 with a charity run by Paul Pierce of the Celtics. Unfortunately, while documents show $623,000 went to LA Stars, a private company formed to run charity events, there is no evidence any money was given to either of the players’ charities. According to ESPN, Team Play lost its tax-exempt status in March.

D'Brickashaw Ferguson of the New York Jets. (Photo: AP)D’Brickashaw Ferguson, NFL

An all-pro offensive lineman, D’Brickashaw Ferguson of the New York Jets signed two mega contracts, one for $35 million in 2006 and another for $73.6 million in 2010, with $35 million guaranteed. What else would a high- profile athlete with millions on the way do but start a foundation?

Ferguson’s self-named foundation was started in 2007. Last year, the New York Post, in a story about “lousy charities” run by athletes, looked at Ferguson’s, among others. What it found was likely less than inspiring to prospective donors. While the athlete kicked in a million bucks to start the foundation, documents the Post looked at showed that in 2011, just $32,501 was given to Long Island high school students in the form of scholarships and another $3,000 to food pantries. That contrasts with the $90,000 Ferguson’s mother received in salary and benefits to run the foundation.

Lamar Odom of the Clippers takes spill during a game. (Photo: AP)Lamar Odom, NBA

The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers star evidently had his heart in the right place when he started a charity called Cathy’s Kids to honor his mother, who had died of cancer. Founded in 2004, the group has raised $2.2 million. According to ESPN, there is no proof that Cathy’s Kids made any grants to help causes dealing with cancer. More than half the money was donated to high-level AAU basketball teams, which used the money to defray travel expenses.

Chris Zorich speaking at a news conference. (Photo: AP)Chris Zorich, NFL

The former Notre Dame linebacker had a nice career with the Chicago Bears from 1991-'96 and the Washington Redskins in 1997. He wanted to give back and started the Christopher Zorich Foundation in 1993. Its mission was to assist families in need. Zorich became known for his charitable work, winning accolades: USA Weekend’s Most Caring Athlete Award and the Jesse Owens Humanitarian Award. All seemed good.

Fast forward to 2010, when the Chicago Tribune reported that the foundation was in “disarray” and that Zorich did not have documents to account for its finances. After an investigation, the Illinois attorney general last August announced that Zorich had agreed to repay $350,000 in funds that were not accounted for. According to the Tribune, the foundation was doing well until an illness struck Zorich’s cousin, who was its executive director. In 2000, its charity registration was canceled by Illinois. Still, donations were solicited and accepted until 2005.

Randy Moss of the 49ers speaking before the Super Bowl in February. (Photo: AP)Randy Moss, NFL

The prima donna wide receiver, who could astonish fans with his deep-threat speed and infuriate them with his petulance, started two charities in 2009, the Foundation for Children and Links for Learning. While neither wasted donations, because there were none, the charities fizzled after an initial spate of publicity and distribution of several thousand dollars provided by Moss.

By 2011, ESPN reported that both were out of money. Links to Learning was defunct and the Foundation for Children was still in business, albeit barely. ESPN said a phone number listed on IRS forms was answered by a woman in Canada who said she didn’t know who Moss was.

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