If you're a sports fan or even a casual observer of the celebrity scene, it's hard to avoid seeing stories of highly-paid professional athletes flaunting their riches and buying expensive toys. These images sell lots of tabloids, magazines, and TV ad space, and it's fulfilling a need for many consumers who want to live their lives vicariously through their idols.
Unfortunately, these fame-and-fortune tales tend to overshadow the less-glitzy-but-weightier stories about athletes who are engaged in charitable giving. Countless sports stars have work tirelessly behind the scenes to raise money and help build organizations which give aid or assistance to those who are less fortunate.
For these people, giving back is more than showing up at a hospital once a year or signing memorabilia for a charity auction. It's about doing the grunt work of networking, fundraising, and coordination to assemble an organization that helps improve the lives of people they have never met. Their hope is to create something that will hopefully remain long after the athletes themselves are gone and forgotten.
Although America spends a lot of time and attention on sports, these athletes are fully aware of where our priorities should lie - and they're nowhere near the field, court, or arena. So instead of dropping coin on the latest ride, crib, or must-have accessory, these altruistic souls are allocating their hard-earned money toward making a difference; not just in the lives of the people served by the charities with which they are affiliated, but also by leveraging their success into making the world a little better place to live.
Here are ten of the most accomplished athletes in ten different sports who have generously given of their time and money to charities around the world:
10 Basketball: Dikembe Mutombo
During his NBA days, Dikembe Mutombo was known for his shot swats followed by his subsequent finger wag. But history will portray the 7'2" former Nugget/Hawk/76er/Net/Knick/Rocket as one of the most dedicated champions of poverty eradication in Africa. Mutombo, who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, founded his namesake foundation in 1997 to help people in his homeland. Over the past thirteen years, he has donated over $15 million to build the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in his hometown of Kinshasa. The facility epitomizes the Mutombo Foundation's commitment to it primary mission of preventing diseases, improving access to primary health care, and bolstering heath research and education in the nation.
9 Football: Eli Manning
The younger Manning brother is one of only five multiple Super Bowl MVPs in history, but the New York quarterback is also a "giant" in the philanthropy world. Eli Manning assisted with the volunteer efforts surrounding the Hurricane Katrina cleanup and has been a longtime supporter of the American Red Cross. More recently, he completed a five-year campaign to raise $2.5 million to build the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children. The Ole Miss product also donated $1 million to the Opportunity Scholarship fund of his alma mater, and he has also given generously to other charities including Phoenix House, March of Dimes, St. Francis Food and Pantry Shelters.
8 Baseball: Derek Jeter
Perhaps it has something to do with playing in New York. The accomplished Yankees shortstop not only makes off-the-field headlines for his romantic escapades, but also for his altruism. Way back in 1996, Jeter founded the Turn 2 Foundation (referring to both his jersey number and his penchant for completing double plays) in an effort to help at-risk children "turn away" from drugs and alcohol. The organization also supports programs that reward kids for making healthy lifestyle choices and excelling academically. Since its inception, the Turn 2 Foundation has averaged over $1 million a year in grants to programs not only in and around the Big Apple, but also in his native western Michigan.
7 Hockey: Eric Lindros
The 13-year NHL veteran (hey, he played for the Rangers! Go New York!) hung up his skates on a November day back in 2007, and then immediately announced that he would give a $5 million donation to the London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario. It's the quintessential "giving back" gesture, since Lindros was not only treated frequently at the medical facility throughout his hockey career, but he was also born in that city. In addition, he teamed up with Easter Seals to found the Eric Lindros Celebrity Hockey Classic in Ontario, which raised over $116,000 from its most recent event.
6 Soccer: David Beckham
The globally-recognized footballer has a list of charitable giving that's almost as long as his athletic accomplishments on the pitch. It's headlined by the Victoria and David Beckham Charitable Trust, a body which helps fund and support initiatives that are aimed at decreasing poverty, promoting education, and reducing homelessness. He helped found the disease-eradication group Malaria No More, has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2005, and is in the Hall of Fame of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Other charities supported by Beckham include Help for Heroes, aimed at helping injured service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and he’s lent his support to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Unite for Children/Unite Against AIDS, and war veteran advocacy group Help for Heroes.
5 Auto racing: Jeff Gordon
The NASCAR champ does more than just drive around in circles. In 1999, he created the Jeff Gordon Foundation to focus on children with cancer, not only funding treatment programs and research studies, but also to find ways to improve the quality of life for kids who are stricken with the disease. Moreover, the racer's efforts resulted in the opening of the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital in Concord, North Carolina in 2006. He has also been a part of the Drive to End Hunger campaign piloted by AARP (a sponsor of his race car).
4 Golf: Tiger Woods
Love him or hate him, you cannot deny two facts about Tiger Woods: he's one of the greatest golfers of his generation, and he's incredibly generous with his riches. The Tiger Woods Foundation, which was created in 1996, has amassed over $30 million in grants, scholarships, internships, and other aid to help underserved youngsters attend college. The Tiger Woods Learning Center helps kids learn about specialized subjects (such as graphic design, marine biology, and aerospace engineering) in order to help prepare them for a fulfilling career. He has also donated his time and money to Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Rainforest Foundation Fund, and Caddy for a Cure.
3 Tennis: Andre Agassi
The one-time "bad boy" of tennis has done a lot of good for students in his native Las Vegas. In 2001, he helped build and fund the Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy, a charter school which offers tuition-free education to underprivileged kids in the city. Not only has Agassi donated millions to the academy, but his namesake Foundation for Education has helped raise an eye-popping $177 million over the last two decades. Talk about "serving to win."
2 Figure Skating: Kristi Yamaguchi
Her Olympic success and on-ice grace are well-documented, but many people may not know that Yamaguchi has been helping children since 1996 with her Always Dream Foundation. The organization begins assisting young children with reading programs and helps improve literacy skills as they grow. Over the years, the group has paid for everything from clothing to computers to summer camp tuition for children of all ages. Yamaguchi's charity also partners with Footsteps2Brilliance and Raising a Reader to use technology to help students learn at a dozen Bay Area schools.
1 Swimming: Michael Phelps
The record-setting swimmer has been busy since his awe-inspiring performance in the Beijing Olympic pool (and not just hawking Subway sandwiches). He took his $1 million bonus from Speedo that he earned by winning his eight gold medals and founded the Michael Phelps foundation, which partners with Special Olympics and Boys and Girls Clubs of America to help kids with goal-setting, personal empowerment, and fitness programs. It also donates Phelps-signed swim caps to nonprofits for fundraising efforts through its Caps for a Cure program, and supports the Level Field Fund to help bridge funding gaps for talented swimmers in the U.S.