The Mount Rushmore of Sport Philanthropists
For all the work athletes put into perfecting their craft, many of them also use their influence and income to raise awareness and funds for meaningful causes. Media outlets and corporate sponsors must start featuring these stories to increase awareness, drive impact and help create a culture where giving back — in whatever way best suits you — is the norm.
Last week I attended a Panel on the Intersection of Sports, Digital Media and Philanthropy where Brian Fetherstonhaugh (Worldwide Chief Talent Officer at The Ogilvy Group, author of The Long View: Career Strategies to Start Strong, Reach High and Go Far) shared his Mount Rushmore of Sport Philanthropists. Using that as inspiration, I wanted to share my Mount Rushmore of current Sport Philanthropists.
For all his accolades as an NBA Superstar, King James has been just as iconic off the court. He founded the LeBron James Family Foundation with the mission to positively impact the lives of underprivileged youth through innovative educational initiatives.
You might remember James’ much maligned TV Special “The Decision;” what you should remember from that event is that James donated all proceeds (over $2.5 Million) to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America with the goal of improving the education system and increasing after school activities and mentoring opportunities.
In 2015, he donated $41 Million (!!!) to help send 1,000+ kids to college. Additionally, James has not been afraid to use his platform to bring attention to topics that must be discussed in this country, including during the 2016 ESPYs Awards when he spoke out on race relations and interactions with the police in the United States
Those who know me know that my deep fandom for LeBron is due to his ability to use the game of basketball to positively impact youth education and make the world a better place. Also, foundation work is a great opportunity for sponsors to improve their activation with athletes — shoutout to Sprite for teaming up with LeBron to Renovate the Westbank Unit Boys & Girls Club in New Orleans.
The most dominant tennis player we have ever seen is also a dominant force in the community. As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, she helped promote their campaign to help educate Asia’s 26 million marginalized children. She also traveled to Ghana with UNICEF to lobby for better educational opportunities for children in third-world countries.
Williams’ created her own charity, The Serena Williams Fund, to address persistent problems like gun violence, educational inequity, and poverty that have personally impacted her family. She has been outspoken about her support for the Black Lives Matter movement, supporting the Caliber Foundation in support of families and victims affected by gun violence.
Her record 23 Grand Slam Titles are matched by her admirable philanthropic that include tackling tough issues that others often avoid.
Ronaldo’s 2017 income of $93 million (Salary/bonuses: $58 million, Endorsements: $35 million) might alarm you, but the impact he makes off the field is even more impressive. Known for his generosity, Ronaldo donated his entire Champions League bonus (over $1 Million) to charity and sold his Golden Boot Award for $1.5 million, donating the money to Palestinian school children in Gaza. As the global ambassador for Save the Children, Ronaldo is committed to working towards giving all children a better and brighter future.
Some of Ronaldo’s other recent charitable highlights include donating $9 Million to Nepal in 2015 after the devastating earthquake, paying for a 9-year-old cancer patient to receive pioneering treatment in an attempt to save his life, becoming an international spokesman for two global campaigns addressing childhood hunger & obesity and another aimed at conserving biodiversity. He has also donated the winnings from a libel suit to his hometown in Portugal, funded a cancer center at the Portuguese hospital that treated his mother, and raised funds for the reconstruction of Aceh, Indonesia following the 2004 earthquake and tsunami.
“When you help other people, then God will give you double”
What impresses me most about Ronaldo is his mindset about why he gives back. His father taught him that “when you help other people, then God will give you double.” The takeaway here is that, by giving back, Ronaldo has increased his confidence on the field while also improving his likability & marketability, in turn creating more sponsorship opportunities. This explains why companies are willing to invest so much money in him as a spokesperson — he represents their brand the right way.
“When I hear that this child wants to hang out with [me] for the day, I think that’s the most flattering thing that I could ever be a part of.”
Cena may be known to the public as the most notable wrestler of this generation, for hosting award shows, or for his roles on the big screen; his charitable work and ability to parlay his profession to improve the lives of those less fortunate is what stands out the most to me.
As the most-requested Make-a-Wish Foundation athlete, Cena has granted over 500 wishes to date! He has also played a critical role with the Susan G. Komen organization to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer, acting as as the Grand Marshal for the 2014 Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure. By selling the pink shirts he wears in the ring between September and November every year, Cena has helped raise of $1 Million for the Komen Foundation.