Superstar running back Chris Johnson and other Tennessee Titans’ player’s charities have been hit with allegations of inefficiency, waste, and non-compliance with non-profit law. In an investigative news report by Nashville’s NewsChannel5 entitled, “Questions Raised By Some Titans Players’ Charities,” reporter Jennifer Kraus states that many of the player’s “foundations have failed to register with the IRS or file the required annual tax forms, meaning there is little to no accountability as far as how much money is coming in and where that money is going” and “while the players put their names on these foundations, many are actually set up and run not by the players, but their sports and marketing agents.”
For over a decade, I have studied, lectured, written about, and worked with professional and collegiate athletes. Through my experience, I am familiar with many of the points raised in Ms. Kraus’ article. Of course, I agree all charities must be held accountable for the use of donor funds and strict compliance with applicable regulations. Yet, I believe it is equally important to contextualize and understand the underlying reason why many athlete-based charities do not fully maximize their potential.
In fact, I submit that the shortcomings addressed by Ms. Kraus speak to larger issues that hinder professional athletes when it comes to their business affairs like:
- Having a serious lack of and/or disregard for business and financial knowledge;
- Hiring unqualified friends, relatives, and/or unscrupulous “professionals” to manage their business and financial affairs;
- Inadequately planning for the likely reality of a sudden and substantial decline in income and status when their professional career is over.
So, the deficiencies in Ms. Kraus’ article are sadly both predictable and understandable. After all, most of the professional athletes who create charitable foundations are inexperienced young men well aware and appreciative of the community of persons and organizations who supported them along the way. Most of these athletes feel a deep debt to their families and communities. This especially true of the vast majority of NFL and NBA players, who come from poor, inner-city African-American communities.
Suddenly, many professional athletes find themselves in a financial position to fulfill their heartfelt desire to give back. On average, neither these young professional athletes, nor their social or family networks, have any experience with the business, financial and legal worlds they are literally overnight thrust into. Nor do they know how to leverage their new found status to do long-term sustainable good works. Oftentimes, they either rely on the assistance of well-meaning, but inexperienced family members and friends, or hire the services of shady, incompetent, and/or unconcerned professionals. As a result, their foundations (like the other areas of their life) often are not compliant with requirements for long-term success.
In closing, I hope that Ms. Kraus’s article prompts athletes to pursue excellence and full legal compliance regarding their charitable endeavors in order to avoid being “put on blast” and dealing with the financial, legal, and public relations consequences. More importantly, since these athlete-based foundations frequently give back to communities that are usually overlooked by more established or mainstream charities. There are countless people who need athlete-related charities to function at a championship level.
About the Author:
Attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, is the managing partner of SolomonSimmonsSharrock & Associates law firm and a former D-1 football player at the University of Oklahoma. For nearly a decade, he has studied, lectured, written about, and worked with professional and collegiate athletes. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/solospeaks.