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Athletes with High Scores as Role Models
Posted on April 16, 2012 by Adam Bean

As role models, many professional athletes are far from perfect when the spotlight is off. Sometimes they screw up big time. They’re only human, right? Unfortunately, when athletes do bad things, their mistakes get more attention than their good deeds.


Ballooning Nest Eggs wants to remedy that. We believe the good works of the athletes profiled here are examples of enlightened investing — using their prominence and financial muscle to make the world a better place. While many of you continually pass on your knowledge of your favorite sports to your kids, below you’ll find off-field examples of athletes’ generous actions to share as well.


As you’ll see, these athletes wanted to invest their time and money in something worthwhile. The athletes also want their charitable acts to leave a legacy long after they stopped playing their sport. With apologies to the purveyors of basketball’s March Madness, we call them the “Ballooning Nest Eggs Elite Eight.”


Champion NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon founded the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation in 1999 to support children battling cancer with programs that improve their quality of life, treatment programs that increase survivorship, and pediatric medical research dedicated to finding a cure. The foundation also supports the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital in Concord, NC, which provides a high level of primary and specialty care to kids, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.


Tennis great Serena Williams provided funding for the Serena Williams Secondary School in Matooni, Kenya, in 2008. On a tour of Africa years earlier, Serena had experienced firsthand the level of poverty and need for affordable education. She opened her school to give children a chance at free education and help them become a positive influence in their community. In many areas of Africa, families cannot afford to send their children to school. Here’s an amazing video of Serena at the school’s opening ceremony.


For years, Warrick Dunn was a star running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons. Along the way, he founded the Homes for the Holidays program, which helps single-parent families make significant down payments on their own homes. Since 1997, Warrick’s program has supported 111 families. His aim is to help other single parents provide what his mother — a police officer killed while working as a security guard to make extra money — was never able to give Warrick: his very own home.


At 17, all-time great skateboarder Tony Hawk was easily earning more money than his high school teachers thanks to competition winnings and sponsorship deals. Today, the 43-year-old entrepreneur runs the Tony Hawk Foundation, which awards grants for the construction of free, public skateparks in communities with at-risk youths. In March, Tony’s foundation reached the milestone of 500 skateparks in 50 states, with Connecticut being the final state to be honored. Since the foundation’s launch 10 years ago, it has awarded more than $4 million in grants.


Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh (pronounced “in-DOM-eh-kin Soo”) stands 6’4” and weighs 307 pounds. Before being drafted by the NFL in 2010, Suh came up big in another way when he announced a $2.6 million donation to the University of Nebraska, the largest single gift from a former football player to his alma mater. He directed $2 million to the university’s athletic department to renovate the North Stadium strength and conditioning center, where Suh spent countless hours training. The remaining $600,000 will endow a scholarship at the university’s Lincoln College of Engineering (Suh graduated from the engineering school with a degree in Construction Management).  The engineering scholarship gives priority to out-of-state students and ones from Suh’s high school in Portland, Ore.


Baseball slugger Albert Pujols made huge news in the offseason when he signed a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. What you may not have heard about is his work with the Pujols Family Foundation, which promotes awareness of and funding to families and children who live with Down syndrome. The foundation also helps improve the standard of living and quality of life for impoverished children in the Dominican Republic through education funding and medical relief. A native of the Dominican Republic, Albert and his wife Deidre have a daughter with Down syndrome.


We know the last couple of years have not been good for Tiger Woods. Still, that doesn’t diminish the work he does through the Tiger Woods Foundation, which funds the Earl Woods Scholarship Program named after his father. The program helps underserved kids get into college, and thrive once they’re there. Scholars in the program receive a $5,000 scholarship that is renewable for up to 4 years, plus they get a dedicated mentor and specialized internships to help prepare them for life after college. The program also funds items many college students take for granted, like books, a plane ticket home at holiday time, or a new winter coat.


Dylan Rebeor has a different story from the professional athletes above. Rebeor was a 16-year-old football player from Columbia, Tenn. when he lost his battle with colon cancer in 2010. Rebeor died just hours before his team, the Columbia Central Lions, won their first state championship in 58 years. His last wish wasn’t to visit Disney World, or to meet a celebrity in Hollywood. Instead, he asked that his teammates get new uniforms for the following season. Russell Athletic honored Rebeor’s wish. The company established the Fight Like Dylan Award to celebrate sports teams who work together and overcome very tough obstacles. Every year, one winning school will receive a $50,000 team uniform grant from Russell Athletic.


Of course, many other professional athletes are role models for good deeds, including Lance Armstrong, Andre Agassi, Mia Hamm and Eric Lindros. All of these athletes — and many more — have given thousands of hours and millions of dollars to causes that will endure long after they leave the limelight. Ballooning Nest Eggs thanks them for that!



Here are some questions to get your kids thinking about the value of charitable giving by connecting them to their sports heroes:


If you made a lot of money as an athlete, what would you do to help others? Do you have a favorite charity now?


Who is your favorite sports star? Would you feel differently about that star if you knew he or she did or didn’t give to charities through gifts of time or money?


For someone like a wealthy professional athlete, do you think it’s more important to give your time or your money to a good cause?


Do you think star athletes should be role models for something other than the sport they play?