Professional sports teams are leveraging their visibility and their deep pockets to spearhead philanthropic initiatives in the communities that support them, the Denver Post reports.
Given that professional athletes often earn millions of dollars and cities build $500 million stadiums to keep or lure teams, many say it's only right that teams give something in return. "There are a lot of people who think the teams should be obligated to do this," said Sarah Martinez-Helfman, executive director of the Eagles Youth Partnership, the charitable arm of the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Among other programs, the Partnership provides eye care and glasses for needy children and spruces up inner-city school playgrounds.
While the money can be substantial — the Denver Broncos Charity Fund, for example, has granted more than $18 million to charitable organizations in Colorado since its establishment in 1994 — professional teams are also using their celebrity clout to take on controversial issues.
Straight Talk, a Jaguars Foundation program that aims to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, is tolerated in the team's conservative hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, only because of the Jaguars' high profile, said Delores Barr Weaver, the team's co-owner and CEO of the foundation. "In our community, the Jaguars are looked on as good citizens," she told a Denver conference sponsored by the Sports Philanthropy Project, which was created in 1998 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Even those who did not support a team coming to Jacksonville have acknowledged that our players are not just high-paid football players that cause trouble. But indeed, they care about the community."