May 6, 2021

Winning Off the Field

Athletes are influencers of societal and cultural issues and have a unique power to enact change. Whether it be a specific cause, current issue, or culture in general, the opportunity to create a transformation and “do good” and in turn “look good” is tremendous. The public regards their favorite athletes as role models and looks at their philanthropic undertakings and sponsorship choices as examples to be emulated. Ultimately, the causes one supports and philanthropic endeavors in which one engages help to develop the athlete’s brand.

Many high school and college coaches require their athletes to volunteer their time, talents, and persona within their community. Athletes quickly learn the value of philanthropy as a means of giving back as well as a way of defining their identity.

The relationship between the athlete and philanthropy has gained traction in the twenty-first century yet is well-rooted in the past. Babe Ruth, prior to his death established a foundation to benefit underprivileged children leaving a large bulk of his estate to the cause. Similarly, Ty Cobb donated $100,000 to establish a hospital in his hometown in his parents’ name. Although not college-educated, Cobb placed great value on education establishing the Ty Cobb Educational Foundation. To date, over $17 million in academic scholarships have been distributed to those in need in Georgia.

The three biggest leagues in the United States give back to communities in a tremendous way. The NFL, through the “NFL Foundation”, has committed more than $350 million to charitable and philanthropic causes that benefit communities in crises and hardships being faced. The NBA through the “NBA Cares” and the MLB through the “MLB Community” try to address important social issues in the United States and abroad. All three leagues encourage players to give of their time and effort to supplement the capital the leagues give.

Not all have the resources to fund a million-dollar foundation yet nonetheless there is still a critical role to be played. Athletes have a platform that can be used to inspire social change and in turn, build their brand. Lending their name and or sweat to a societal issue or working directly with the local community is a gratifying way to make an impact. Athletes are role models with the power to reach and motivate many.

Millennials and Gen Zers are accustomed to being “do-gooders” even more than being financial donators. Consumers under the age of 40 report that they prefer to give back though to their community in the form of an action rather than a financial contribution and look to their role models to do the same.

If you are committed to making a real change in the world, it is important that know what it is you value and stand for. Think about how you see your legacy. Research to identify the cause or issue that you feel passionate about and respect. Learn as much as you can about it so you can share your passion with others. Determine how you feel best comfortable using your knowledge, influence, contacts, and skills and then truly embody the cause. Engage with your fans and followers to spread the message and raise awareness on as many platforms and opportunities as possible. A commitment to giving back to a cause or an issue that you truly believe in and relate to will spark your fan base to act.

Athletes are more than just players on a field. They are role models, trendsetters, and social influencers. Rebecca Evans, an expert in marketing, sponsorship, and communications states that associating yourself with a cause does not simply benefit your personal brand; it adds purpose to it so that you stand for something more than just yourself. Fans want more than a superficial connection with sports professionals; they look for an emotional connection. It is not just about personal success; it’s about making your mark in making a change.

Ashley Horner, a fitness model, hybrid athlete, and trainer is a perfect example of this. Her influence and reach are global and her philanthropic efforts are many. She set out to row 25 hours on the Concept 2 Machine for Spike’s K9 Foundation, a nonprofit in her hometown of Virginia Beach. Additionally, she has completed a 280-mile run from Virginia Beach to North Carolina for the Unbroken Foundation and cycled 1,350 miles to benefit St. Jude’s Cancer research. Her most recent philanthropic effort was accomplished this fast fall when she ran 40 hours to assist the Maison Fortune Orphanage in Haiti.

Zane Kekoa Schweitzer, ocean enthusiast, and 2x Ultimate Waterman Champion uses his influence to share his passion while supporting underprivileged children in Hawaii. He aims to introduce the ocean and stewardship to children and encourage a respectful relationship with the environment.

The Sports Philanthropy Project emphasized that given the relatively recent emergence of sports philanthropy, many athletes may not be aware of the value — to both their communities and their brand — of exercising philanthropy through carefully and strategically structured foundations and programs.

The positive or negative ramifications of an athlete’s “nonsporting” pursuits build their identity and the value of their brand. A genuine belief in the cause or issue you support is paramount. Athletes are in a unique position to call others to action by the pursuits in which they engage. You are a winner on the field, be a winner off the field too.



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