Sometimes, giving just ain't enough

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles, CEO Sports Network

"Charitable contribution, tax deduction or combination of both?" That is the question all too often posed by both the skeptics and realists, the agnostics and suspicious, versus the supporters and idolaters. What the heck, it has to go to the government anyway, so why not take hold of a cause and ride it all the way to your accountant's office, wonderful press and the adoration of many? Sounds reasonable and well thought out.

The problem with that line of thinking, however, is that there are those who can that are legitimately taken by a particular charity, one deserving of their philanthropy and ability to make a difference to at least try. It is altruistic, benevolent and genuine. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have been, seen and can, whether it is New Orleans or Africa. Others follow that thinking and know that there are charities out there that can use their presence and dollars. Still others have been touched by a need.

My own mother and father passed from cancer, as did a sister and her daughter, two cousins and their daughter. One of my daughters was diagnosed this past year with breast cancer, caught in time thanks to a mammogram. One of my granddaughters was discovered, at age 10, to be smitten with juvenile diabetes. Need I tell you where my own efforts and dollars are directed?

For years I was also president of the Blind Golfers Association of Pennsylvania. When you play the game, about a mile or two distant, perhaps a great deal more, from the PGA Tour but love the game you appreciate what these folks have been able to do despite being blind. And, board meetings at my home with 12 German Shepherd dogs on hand were fine, just fine.

There are more charities out there than all the money in the world, from the very rich to those who manage to drop a dollar or two in the jar on the counter or send a small check in the mail, can handle and accommodate.

But the effort is what counts and those who are possessed of millions in the world of sports, from teams to the players themselves are doing their part. The underlying reason(s), if less than genuine and prompted by lawyers and/or accountants, matter not. What they are doing is the basis of the matter and it merits applause. Can they do more? Of course, the wealthy can always do more. How much more is up to them, not us, and criticism is unjustified since it will avail you naught and likely has no basis in fact.

Being on the periphery of any malady is stimulant enough. Being touched by it speaks volumes. Witnessing the suffering of others, being made acutely aware of same by any method whatsoever will be a call to action.

Here, however, is the problem, one of many, and it besmirches all by association from time to time. Get a phone call for a donation to your local police or fire association and the group making the call keeps most of the money for doing so. Insane, insulting, offensive, contemptuous. If a policeman shows up at the door and he is not a paid dancer or model from the Chippendales to congratulate my wife on her birthday, we will make the donation to him. Otherwise, not!

That brings us, by way of example, to former pro basketball player Gary Payton; whose own foundation has drawn favorable commentary over the years. When he was with the Seattle SuperSonics, for example, his foundation sponsored a shopping trip to FAO Schwarz for children with cancer. Stories and photos in the local press showed how the foundation was bringing festive cheer to the needy.

But, in 2005, it took in about $110,000 and just under $11,000 went to charitable programs, whilst $101,549 went to administrative expenses. That's a roughly one-to-10 ratio, well below the 75% figure most philanthropy-watchers expect to see spent on charity rather than overheads. Unacceptable, but not the only instance of such abuse and smoke with mirrors.

Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez is baseball's highest paid player at over $30 million per year.
Teams, leagues and agents all encourage players to become philanthropic to help boost their images while perceptively giving back. The problem is that it doesn't work as planned because there is much less guidance from agents, teams, leagues, lawyers and accountants that would help these athletes to accomplish what they believe they are doing.

Baseball's highest-paid player, Alex Rodriguez, has a foundation that supports mental health and other causes, but only a third of its spending in one year went to charitable activities, the rest going to who knows what.

The sad reality is that players, and teams, no, not all, leverage these charitable efforts to market themselves. Interviews on television, radio and in print on the condition that they be allowed to talk about their latest philanthropic work. Teams tout this work on their websites and in media guides that reporters reference for their stories.

How did New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer have a foundation that had end-of-year assets of about $133,000, but only gave $392 to charity? Yet, in July of that year he was invited to ring the opening bell at the NASDAQ Stock Market because of the foundation's work.

On the other hand, the handful of very large foundations launched by athletes are among the most efficient. Tiger Woods' foundation, which makes grants to community-based children's programs, had assets of almost $82m at the end of 2005. Lance Armstrong's foundation had $34m. Both reported spending or program support that was more than 75% of their total expenditures.

Female athletes haven't created as many foundations as men, in part because it is the big male-only professional leagues - the NBA, NFL, and MLB - that are the richest and do the most to encourage player charity. But many female athletes are charitable and some have created foundations. Chris Evert's foundation raised $843,304 about five years ago and donated most of the money to an organization that assists at-risk children in Florida.

It would take an encyclopedic effort to detail the charitable work, both good and not so good, prodigious and pronounced, effective and ineffective in an effort such as I am attempting to put forth here. It runs the gamut but speaking of running, at least many have entered the race. The truly unacceptable, however, is when 75% or more of that which is collected and/or donated goes to the infamous and illusory "administrative expenses" and not to the charity itself when the athlete, team or personality not in sports, uses the purpose to enhance himself and his image more than to gather funds for those that really need it. Even worse is when that same athlete creates a foundation to assist and enlists the support of others equally as rich, or more so, to donate because of him and never being given an accounting while the nests of administrative personnel are feathered nicely as those who can really use the support continue to sleep in the wet and cold at the base of the charitable tree.

Sad, very sad.

But, when the leagues - the MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, PGA Tour make contributions of $1m-2m or more you can rest assured that those funds will find their way to New Orleans or Haiti, to UNICEF or the American Red Cross. What athletes do is neither malicious nor ill-intended from the get-go. What is at the crux of it all, the funds misdirected, is their putting their faith in others while they go out to don their uniforms and play with a ball of some size. They are not wanton nor pitiless, not acting with premeditated malice. They are just preoccupied and, to some degree, stupid. Poor planning, needless expenses and overall waste.

Yes, there are too many charities but there are also too many people, too many in need, too many diseases, too many suffering, too many hurricanes, too many oil spills, too many poor, too many indigent and unable to help themselves just too many of everything, and growing.

FYI, 'non-profit' does not mean what most think. It just means nothing is left when all is said and done regardless of where the money goes but it sure sounds good, right?

The worldwide economic malaise hasn't helped, but guess what? The leagues, teams and, in particular, the players, have the funds because we continue to fill the arenas, commercials on TV still run for millions and the well is never dry. It all comes down to how much water remains in the bucket when it is brought to the surface. In too many cases not enough.

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