Giving Back

Much ink has been spilled and much air has been let out of bloated lungs regarding the decision over a year ago but Colin Kaepernick to kneel during the national anthem before one of his football games. Many have attacked the man himself and he has been virtually ostracized by the NFL because of his stand — despite the fact that he is an able quarterback and could help a number of teams who will have nothing to do with him.

I defended him in a post early on and I still think he has been largely misunderstood by those who can only see his actions as insulting to flag and country. But the bottom line, as an article in this month’s Sports Illustrated makes clear, is that he has had a positive impact on the issues he wanted to raise, namely, human rights, equality and fairness — all worthy concerns, indeed.

Kaepernick’s ostracism has already cost him a small fortune in lost salary and endorsements, but he has given $900,000 of the $1 million he has pledged to various charities around the country that focus on repairing some of the damage done by our long-time lack of interest in the plight of those who are chronically disadvantaged. At a time when professional sports figures are pilloried for their lack of social conscience — much of it deserved — it is heartening to be informed that not only Kaepernick himself but numerous other athletes are doing something more than kneeling at sporting events. They are doing what they can to help eradicate social injustice.

Among those who have given of their time and money are the following:

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long who gave $375,000 so far to fund scholarships in Charlottesville, Virginia and has promised more than $650,000 to his “Pledge 10 for Tomorrow campaign which will help make education more easily accessible to underserved youths.”

Steeler’s Left Tackle Alejandro Villanueva is donating proceeds from his jersey sales to “military nonprofits — just as he has done in the previous three years.”

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has helped raise more than $35 million for “New York March for Babies ” to fight premature birth. And his work with “Tackle Kids Cancer campaign has led to more than $1 million in fund-raising.”

Seattle Seahawk’s defensive end Michael Bennet has pledged half of his jersey sales profits to inner-city garden projects “and all of his endorsement earnings are tabbed for s.t.e.a.m. programs [science, technology, engineering, arts, and math] and charities focused on empowering minority women.”

And Cliff Avril, another Seattle Seahawk, has promised to build a house on Haiti for each sack this season — of which he has had 11 1/2 so far this season. “He and a group of NFL players built a dozen homes in the offseason, provided clean water to an orphanage and renovated a school.”

In addition, one of the two “sportspersons of the year,” J.J,. Watt of the Houston Texans has raised over $37 million for hurricane relief after a hurricane ravaged the city of Huston earlier this year. This included a $5 million donation from a billionaire and an average of $177 from over 209,000 donations.

At a time when we hear so many negative things said about professional sportsmen, this is good news indeed. We can only hope this is not a “one-off” as the Brits like to say and that it will continue as we all become more aware that there are people in need and many who are disadvantaged in a country that prides itself on its “greatness.”

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Cheap And Mean

I have remarked in previous posts about a pet peeve of mine, to wit, the tendency of wealthy athletes to keep a tight grip on their money and rarely give any of it away to worthy causes.  I  noted exceptions to the rule. But I also made mention of Phil Mickelson’s outrage when confronted by the fact that the state in which he lives — California — had the audacity to pass a law requiring the wealthy to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes. He even threatened to move. Heaven forbid that the money should go to things like education, health care, and police and fire protection! That would be a dangerous precedent indeed.

There are exceptions, as I have noted, though they do tend to target causes that are close to the athlete’s heart — such as Ernie Els’ devotion to the cause of autistic children because he has one of his own. There are also those who seem to be able to see beyond their own noses, such as young Rickie Fowler, the golfer who looks like a cartoon character with flat-brimmed golf caps color-coordinated with his entire outfit, which is almost always in a garish colors, such as bright orange. The young man does seem to want to call attention to himself. But he also wants to do good with his money as he did recently at the Crowne Plaza Invitational in Ft. Worth, Texas when he pledged $100,000 of his own money for tornado relief in Oklahoma. At the time the announcement was made we were also told that a group of five golfers (who will remain nameless out of a sense of decency) pledged $100.00 for every birdie and $200.00 for every eagle they collectively scored at the tournament.

Two things bother me about this latter “pledge.” To begin with, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Birdies are extremely rare and eagles are as well. This pledge is not unlike a person promising $1,000.00 to a charity predicated on his winning the lottery. These five golfers are playing the odds. The chances are very good this “pledge” will cost them nothing. But even if it did, the dollars they have pledged amount to petty cash. For men in their income bracket this is small change, something they could easily reach into their pockets and peel off without blinking an eye. Why would anyone make such a hollow pledge in the face of genuine human suffering? When there are people in real need so many of those who could help seem to turn the other way and check their bank accounts to make sure it hasn’t been diminished in any way by some foolish gesture they might have made after a couple of martinis. It does give one pause, since one might argue that those who are in a position to help others in need have a responsibility to do so. Indeed, I would argue this, which is why this sort of thing is a pet peeve of mine — as you may have guessed.

Alongside the generous, caring athletes like Fowler there are those who seem to have no conscience whatever and who even seem to be mocking those who genuinely care — in a world where and at a time when we need those who care for others more than ever.

Fallout From the “Deal”

I don’t pretend to understand all the ramifications of the “deal” struck in Congress recently to keep us from going over the fiscal cliff. But the complaints from the political right-wing suggest that the deal was a good thing for the rest of the country. I figure if the Tea Party doesn’t like it, it must be a good thing for the majority of people in this country.

I do wonder, however, whether it might have been better in the long run if we had fallen off the cliff — on our collective butts — in order to force this country to eliminate some of the fat in our budget (starting with defense spending, of course) and make all of us pay more taxes — given the fact that we are taxed at a very low rate compared with the rest of the “developed” world, and also given the fact that our economy thrived when we were paying more in taxes. I was especially hoping for tax raises on the wealthy who have benefitted mightily from the Bush tax cuts. As I understand it, the new deal will raise taxes on individuals who make above $400,000 a year and that will help reduce the deficit somewhat. But a great many people who make a great deal of money will still avoid paying their share.

There’s more: one of the more interesting ramifications of the deal is the complaint we are hearing from some of the wealthy who have threatened to discontinue giving to charities. A recent story on HuffPost focusing on this issue caught my eye. In that story we are told that

Legislation passed by the Senate late Tuesday night will limit the amount wealthy people can claim for charitable deductions on their taxes. While some say donors shouldn’t be motivated by the amount of money they can write off, others –- including some nervous nonprofits –- argue that tax breaks for charitable giving should have been left untouched in the deal.

One such dissenter is Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush. Fleischer tweeted his distaste for the deduction decision on Tuesday:

“I increased donations to charity in 2012. This deal limits my deductions so I, & many others, will likely donate less in 2013.”

— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) January 1, 2013

When I was a kid I loved playing marbles. We played “keepies” where the winners get to keep the marbles they hit out of a ring drawn in the dirt. Every now and again a kid would see that he was losing and grab his remaining marbles and refuse to play any more. This is what Fleischer’s complaint reminds me of. Wealthy people like Ari Fleischer don’t want to play any more because they won’t get the tax breaks they are used to getting for giving some of their money to those less fortunate than themselves. Poor Ari. I expect he cries all the way to the bank. I thought the idea behind charitable giving was to help others, not to get tax breaks. Great wealth seems to cloud the brain.