Professional athletes are often criticized for being poor role models. Colorado has many athletes, however, who set an example of leadership with philanthropy. In order to understand why some of them dedicate their time outside the games to worthy causes, I asked three of Colorado’s best-known professional sportsmen.
Denver Broncos All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey grew up in rural Georgia and first learned about philanthropy by watching his grandmother help others. Later, as a young player for the Washington Redskins, he was inspired by a senior teammate, Darrell Green, who taught him that “we’re all role models, whether we want to be or not.”
Now, Champ tries to set a good example for younger players with his charitable initiatives. In Colorado, Bailey donates time and money to the Denver Rescue Mission, among others, and believes that volunteering has greater impact than his financial donations.
Bailey believes that “every guy in our position should do something to benefit the community where they play or back home. It doesn’t have to be big,” Champ says, “but it’s not hard to find something to be part of.”
Chauncey Billups, former George Washington High School, University of Colorado and Denver Nuggets All-Star — now with the L.A. Clippers — was an “inner-city kid” who spent all of his spare time at a rec center.
Occasionally, an anonymous donor would send the kids to a concert, on a fishing trip or to some other activity they couldn’t afford on their own. He remembers “what it felt like to be given to by someone else” and does the same for kids today.
Billups’ two principal efforts are the Porter-Billups Leadership Academy and the Elite Basketball Academy. In the offseason, Billups interacts with the kids and believes that by being accessible, he can have a significant impact on their lives. When his professional basketball career ends, Chauncey plans to return to Denver to “spend even more time with the kids” and his charitable efforts.
Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton is motivated to be charitable by the biblical admonition “To whom much is given, much is required.” Having been “blessed in baseball and in life,” Helton finds it “both a responsibility and a privilege to give back.”
Todd is private about his philanthropy and, working closely with his wife, Christy, focuses his charitable efforts on children “who deserve to be loved and nurtured” and on members of the U.S. Armed Forces whose service he admires and respects. He hopes to teach his daughters “God wants us to help fulfill the needs of others less fortunate” and deeply believes that we “all have something of value to give back.”
Few of us have the resources of professional athletes such as Bailey, Billups and Helton. But no matter how we’re motivated to act, each of us can activate or deepen our own commitment to philanthropy and contribute our time and money to worthy causes.
Nonprofit of the month
Some 125 years ago, a woman and five clergymen came together in Denver with a radical idea to transform their community. The year was 1887, and the result of that idea was the birth of a global movement in community philanthropy. The first United Way in the country, Mile High United Way, unites people, ideas and resources to advance the common good in the critical areas of school readiness, youth success and adult self-sufficiency. www.unitedwaydenver.org
Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic adviser, helping families, businesses and foundations with their philanthropic initiatives. You can reach him at email@example.com.