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.
10. 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.
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.
8. 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.
7. 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.
6. 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.
5. 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.