ESPN Investigation Questions Impact of Athlete Charities

Many charities established by professional athletes fail to measure up to guidelines established by watchdog groups such as Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a new investigation from ESPN finds.

Based on an analysis of a hundred and fifteen charities created by high-profile, top-earning athletes, the ESPN show Outside the Lines found that almost three-quarters (74 percent) of them fell short of at least one watchdog group standard such as having recently filed a tax return, having a balanced budget, or having an active board of trustees. Indeed, a majority of athlete-created charities were considered inefficient for various reasons, ranging "from the deceptive and unethical — if not illegal — to the simply neglectful and ignorant." Moreover, only one-third of the charities created by or in the name of a professional athlete had assets of at least $500,000, and in many cases their impact was unclear because they had failed to file a tax return or the returns filed were inaccurate or poorly composed.

According to ESPN, Cathy's Kids, which was started by Los Angeles Clippers forward Lamar Odom in 2004, hasn't made a single grant in support of its mission to fight cancer, although it has spent 60 percent of the $2.2 million it has raised over the years on two elite youth basketball travel teams. Similarly, while a charity created by New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid player in baseball, reported earning $368,000 from a fundraiser in 2006, only 18 percent of the amount raised could be tracked.

As Charity Navigator president Ken Berger told ESPN, athletes and other celebrities have a responsibility to do better. "[W]hen these kind of opportunities are available, [it's critical] that the celebrities involved realize the profound responsibility that they have to try to get as much money to support these worthy causes as they can and to make sure they don't damage the public trust. They can have a tremendous positive influence rather than doing so-so or average, rather than like everybody else."

Paula Lavigne. "Athlete Charities Often Lack Standards." ESPN.com 03/31/2013.