Sports fans share some of the blame for the shortcomings of athletes’ foundations, suggested Mark S. Rosentraub, codirector of the Michigan Center for Sport Management and a faculty affiliate of the Nonprofit and Public Management Center at the University of Michigan. Rosentraub said athletes feel burdened by a societal expectation that they — blessed to make millions playing games — will “give back” by starting foundations they may be ill-equipped to lead.
“I’m not sure why we expect them to be that different from everyone else,” he said.
Athletes often can make greater charitable impacts by giving time and money to existing nonprofits that are well established and well run, said Johnson, the Sports Philanthropy Project director. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a high-profile example of an athlete who has chosen to work with groups like Best Buddies International and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, instead of starting his own nonprofit.
Some athletes’ self-run nonprofits accomplish so little that their chief function appears to be public relations.
Rodriguez talked openly about his desire to reverse bad publicity in 2006 after being exposed as a member of an underground poker club. He started a foundation and teamed with rapper Jay-Z to host a celebrity poker tournament for charity.
“I got in some trouble for poker last year, so why not turn it around and raise some money for the children?” Rodriguez said in an interview with MLB.com at the time.
The event helped the A-Rod Family Foundation raise $403,862 in 2006, but little found its way to charity, according to IRS records. The foundation gave $5,000 to Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund and $90 to a Little League Baseball club in Miami.
Rodriguez’s agent did not respond to requests to interview the slugger.
By Rodriguez’s standard, the Josh Beckett Foundation is a model organization. But the big right-hander's nonprofit has its own problems. Oberle, the director, acknowledged that Beckett Bowl expenses have consumed a significant portion of the foundation’s revenue and that some event extras, like a performance by country singer Jason Aldean in 2010, have not lived up to expectations as major attractions.
But Oberle said the foundation also has brought joy to children by sending Beckett on visits to Children’s Hospital, where a cancer treatment room bears his name.
“Looking at numbers doesn’t necessarily show the impact that an event has,” Oberle said. “You can’t put a price on the impact that it has on the children that attend the event and those who are impacted by the funds raised.”