More than just a few professional athletes take seriously the notion of “giving back” to their community. Some raise money for charitable causes in their off-season by playing sports other than their own, golf and softball being the most common of these off-season outings. But in an age when bad behavior dominates news about the activities of Black sports celebrities off the field, the efforts of those who seek to uplift the lives of others seldom make headlines.
In general, affluent Black Americans, a group that includes sports celebrities earning millions of dollars a year, are more likely to give to charitable causes than affluent non-Blacks, according to a 2010 Northern Trust study “Wealth in Black America.” The study compared the financial attitudes and preferences of Blacks with household incomes of at least $250,000 or a minimum of $1 million in investable assets, with those of 256 affluent non-Blacks. “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” Muhammad Ali, considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, said in a 1978 interview with Time magazine. Ali is one of six Blacks on TotalProSports.com’s list of “9 of the Most Charitable Athletes of All Time.” The other five are Roberto Clemente (baseball), Warrick Dunn (football), Dikembe Mutombo (basketball), David Robinson (basketball) and Tiger Woods (golf).
In examining the state of philanthropy in the Black community, TNJ highlights the charitable work of 10 celebrity athletes.
In 1997, National Basketball Association all-star Ray Allen established the Ray of Hope Foundation, which supports sports-related and other community-based programs, as well as provides avenues of opportunity through which youth can “hope” to realize their full potential.
The foundation has helped charitable organizations around the country to fulfill their mission of helping children in need. From providing children in low-income areas with safe and productive activities to helping young students build greater self-esteem, the foundation is focused on continuing its positive work and becoming a constructive force in the Northeast. Since its launch, the Ray of Hope Foundation has raised more than $500,000.
For the past 11 years, the NBA’s Jamal Crawford has made it a priority to give back to the people and communities that allowed him to pursue his dream. His Jamal Crawford Foundation provides inner-city children with experiences and activities to strengthen their minds and bodies, ensuring well-rounded adults. “I want to be a mentor and be that person giving the advice to change someone’s life,” says Crawford, who considers hip-hop mogul Jay-Z a mentor. “I love Jay-Z. I don’t talk to him as much as I should, or as much as someone should speak with his or her mentor, but he gives me the best advice on life, which is something I look to do with the foundation.”
Through his foundation, Crawford has made a huge difference at every stop on his winding passage through the NBA — in cities like Atlanta, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. As a New York Knick, he helped to set up a library at P.S. 58 in the Bronx and served as principal for a day. In addition to his annual summer-long basketball camps, he holds a Christmas Giving Tree each year to give gifts to under-privileged kids.
Crawford has especially made an impact in his hometown, Seattle, Wash., where he donated a basketball court to his alma mater, Rainier Beach High School, and took steps to equip local schools with defibrillators. More recently, he has been raising money to employ athletic trainers at all Seattle-area public schools.
At 18, Baton Rouge, La., native Warrick Dunn was left to care for his five siblings after his mother was gunned down by armed robbers. The Baton Rouge community created a memorial fund for his family in honor of his mother’s unstinting service to the city as a police officer. The outpouring of support and his mother’s example led Dunn to become a pillar of hope and strength for his family and the communities he has called home.
Challenged during his rookie season in the National Football League by then-coach Tony Dungy to become a vital part of the community, Dunn established the Homes for the Holidays program to give single parents an opportunity to create a home environment where their children can thrive educationally, socially and economically. Since 1997, the program has turned single-parent families into first-time homeowners in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, and in Tampa and Tallahassee communities in Florida. In 2002, the Warrick Dunn Family Foundation was formed to grow programs and services for single-parent families.
Established by NFL star Braylon Edwards, The Braylon Edwards Foundation emphasizes the importance of education by providing scholarships and incentives to disadvantaged youth who work hard to excel in academics, conduct and community volunteerism. To date, students have received laptops, clothing and $100 gift certificates from Nike through the foundation.
Edwards recently made good on a promise he made in 2007 to 100 Cleveland eighth-graders to award them scholarships toward their college tuition if they maintained a 2.5 grade-point average, graduated from high school and did at least 15 hours of community service each year. The students did their part, with the help of parents, tutors, mentors and other well-wishers and Edwards delivered to them 100 scholarships of $10,000 each.
The Ben Gordon New Life Foundation, established by the NBA’s Ben Gordon with the help of his mother, Yvonne Gordon, seeks to improve life skills, promote education and provide mentoring to young people. Ever since Gordon’s rookie year in the NBA, there has been a Ben Gordon Day in Mount Vernon, N.Y., where Gordon grew up and became a high-school basketball star. The annual event brings together the people of Mount Vernon to celebrate Gordon’s success as an athlete and an individual, and to recognize his countless contributions to the city from personal and New Life Foundation funds. Those contributions helped to renovate the Mount Vernon Family YMCA’s dilapidated, unsafe playground and Gordon’s old playground on Eighth Avenue. “It is incredibly important that I continue to improve upon what I do in the community each and every year,” Gordon says.
Ben Gordon Day has now become “Ben Gordon Week,” with such activities as sports career symposiums; gospel concerts; talent shows; basketball clinics; bowling bashes to raise funds for his foundation; celebrity basketball games; autograph sessions; VIP luncheons; a children’s village with face-painting, play stations, pony rides, giveaways and Ben’s Book Club; and family fitness demos. Many of the activities are organized by Gordon and his mother.
“Ben returned to his hometown and played a major role in the effort to Save Our Sports,” said Mayor Clinton Young. “While [he] has already established a wonderful legacy here, he continues to add to it. All that he does is greatly cherished by the people of Mount Vernon.”
Edgerrin James of NFL fame started the Edgerrin James Foun-dation & Charities Inc. in 2000, with a view toward improving decision-making by youth and young adults, enhancing the quality of their lives and empowering them to make positive contributions to society. The next year, James donated $250,000 to the University of Miami, the largest donation ever made to the university by one of its former athletes.
The foundation has been effective in building partnerships and bridging the resource gap to improve lives and promote healthy lifestyles. It vows to support communities through education, health care and youth development programs with the assistance of others.
Growing up, Kalamazoo, Mich., Derek Jeter admired Major League baseballer and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, the first active athlete to establish a charitable foundation. From its lowly beginnings in 1975, to an internationally acclaimed substance-abuse prevention leader, the David M. Winfield Foundation, with a $4 million endowment (funded principally by Winfield), provided services to underprivileged youth, families in need and to the cities in which he played.
Determined to follow in Winfield’s footsteps, one night during his rookie year in 1996, while in a Detroit hotel room eating pizza with his father, Jeter decided to establish Turn 2 Foundation, a reference to the dynamic double play by infielders during a game. Turn 2 also speaks to Jeter’s mission to promote healthy lifestyles among young people and encourage them to “turn to” his foundation for guidance and help in avoiding drugs and alcohol. One of its programs, Jeter’s Leaders, meets at least twice each week to encourage camaraderie among budding leaders while providing them with the opportunity to develop effective meeting techniques, enhance their written and verbal communication, develop managerial skills and carry-out projects. Other programs are baseball clinics, college tours, SAT/ACT preparation, mentoring and camps are among the foundation’s programs.
Because of Jeter’s close association with Western Michigan, Tampa and New York City, Turn 2 focuses more on programs in those areas. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $12 million in grants for thousands of youths.
Leonard “Champ” Pope
At six feet, eight inches, Leonard “Champ” Pope is one of the tallest men in the NFL. His heart is eight feet larger. Just recently, Pope saved the life of six-year-old Bryson Moore, who almost drowned in a swimming pool in an apartment complex in Americus, Ga., Pope’s hometown. Pope did not think twice before jumping into the water, damaging his cellphone and wallet contents in the process, when he heard the frantic cries of Moore’s mother. “I just reacted. I knew I could swim. I just had to get there. I wasn’t waiting around for no one else,” he said at the time.
Pope’s charity, C.H.A.M.P. (Creating Hope And Making Progress) Foundation, uses the letters of his nickname, “Champ.” It offers development programs for underprivileged youth.
The Charlie Villanueva Foundation, formed by NBA star Charlie Villanueva, a son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, has three main focus areas: supporting programs that help to eliminate bullying; assisting families affected by alopecia areata, a condition that causes patches of hair loss on the scalp and body; and assisting poor families in the Dominican Republic. The foundation’s activities generally concentrate on constructive awareness campaigns, fundraising contribution needs, enforcing educational programs, and engaging in numerous affiliations in hope of making a positive difference.
Villanueva, who has suffered from alopecia universalis since he was 12, formed a partnership with and is national spokesperson for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.
Derrick Williams is the founder of Mealz on D.Wheelz, a program affiliated with the Detroit Public Schools. The program teams up with such entities as Subway and Sam’s Club to provide lunches throughout the NFL season to various schools across the metro-Detroit area.
Off-season, Williams also helps out other nonprofits, including Boys & Girls Club of South Oakland County and the Royal Oak Sandlot League, both in Michigan, and churches in the Washington, D.C., area. He and Villanueva jointly raise money for their individual charities via an annual softball game, in which the teams are loaded with celebrities from their respective sports.