Being Charitable to Athletic Charities

When ESPN’s Outside the Line did a review of athlete sponsored charities, the findings were less than positive.  Failed charities, charities with unfiled or misfiled tax returns, charities which had failed to ever charitably disburse funds; you name it, these athlete’s charitable foundations were guilty of it.  The picture was far from flattering, and OTL pulled no punches:
Many athlete charities fail the effectiveness test for a variety of reasons, ranging from the deceptive and unethical — if not illegal — to the simply neglectful and ignorant
However, one element of this which OTL glosses over is that Athlete sponsored charities are really no worse than other charities.  It’s a sad truth that charities in general are poorly run and poorly monitored; the bad news about badly run athletic charities is not how remarkable it is.  It’s how UNremarkable it is.  There are too many people who either have good intentions put lack the capability to successfully manage their charity, or  are amoral enough to take advantage of public sympathy.  Athletes are not at all unusual in this regard.  They are surprisingly average, in fact. OTL makes quick work of this counterpoint, suggesting that athletes have a greater responsibility than others because their name and position make them particularly sensitive to these kinds of errors.  Respectfully, I disagree.  Professional athletes are not charity managers.  They are athletes.  They spend their days working hard to perfect their craft.  They have neither the time, nor the training, to manage these charities themselves, or even conduct close oversight of how the charities operate.  These athletes rely on people with experience running charities for management.  That athletic charities have the same rate of issues as other charities isn’t an expose on athletes, its an expose on charities.  Holding athletic charities to a higher standard is a bizarre higher standard. That said, there is a take-away here for those athletes who have established, or are thinking of establishing a charity in the future:  be careful who you do business with.  For good or for ill, people are always going to fault athletes for things associated with their name, whether the athlete was personally responsible for the issue or not.  When you’re an athlete, you are your brand.  Your name, your achievements, everything that you do is part of one, cohesive business of selling yourself.  So whether it is fair or unfair, folks like OTL are always going to be coming after you when somebody you’re associated with screws up. I think it’s good that athletes to promote their own charities.  It’s good for the beneficiaries of the charity, who gain access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t.  It’s good for the athletes, not only due to the image boost and the tax benefits, but because of the emotional satisfaction that come with such work.  But like any benefit, it must be weighed against its potential cost.  And having your character attacked because of faults in the charity are definitely a cost, so athletes want to be sure they can trust their financial advisers and charity managers with their name and reputation.  Otherwise, they