Baseball has a long and unique tradition of its players going out into the communities to raise money or the spirits of their less fortunate fans. Babe Ruth visited hospitals and children’s homes, for example. These activities were part of the expectations of owners and likely facilitated by the fact that many players came from poorer communities yet worked their way on to the local baseball team – where they played the bulk of their careers until owners dictated a sale. The link between ball and philanthropy was not broken, even as the game expanded and players’ salaries grew, a great example being of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who was killed when his plane crashed trying to bring relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua. A recent trend to this tradition concerns the fact that some players are starting to work charity opportunities into their contracts by using the world-class facilities at their disposal.
Susan Kinzie of The Washington Post relates the story of Ryan Zimmerman, third baseman for the Washington Nationals, who wanted access to the Nationals’ stadium to raise money for his ZiMS (Zimmerman Multiple Sclerosis) Foundation. Ms. Kinzie reports that some $200,000 has been raised for his organization.
As with so many human endeavors, nothing brings success like success:
Washington Capitals [NHL] owner Ted Leonsis, whose Monumental Sports & Entertainment took over the Wizards [NBA] and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics in June, said sports is one of the biggest, most effective platforms for spreading a message. And that influence grows with the popularity of the team. He watched it happen with the Caps, who finished with the best record in the NHL this past season. The team’s foundation had its best season, too, raising more than half a million dollars.
Kinzie’s report includes a discussion of “Athletes for Hope,” which was founded by Andre Agassi, Lance Armstrong, and Mia Hamm – each of whom has enough star power to run his or her own foundation, though they counsel against it. Having one’s own foundation can be a nice status symbol, but it ups overhead costs and time demands, all of which chip away at the intended good work. Instead, pooling resources and working through the team or federation of one’s sport can prove a better value for the beneficiaries.
Players the on I-95 rivals Orioles are involved in philanthropic activities, as are most teams in Major League Baseball. They get personal benefit, their teams get good PR, and philanthropic organizations get great support (The Boston Red Sox gave $3 million in 2009). May the tradition continue and change.