What the NFL can teach the Premier League about philanthropy

14 Nov

Amongst much else, I’m a big fan of two things: American Football and podcasts. So it should come as no surprise to find out that I listen to a number of podcasts about American Football (aka the National Football League or NFL). My favourite is the Rich Eisen podcast which interviews players, coaches, celebrities and fans to give a good and in-depth all round picture of the NFL in all its glory and madness. A few weeks back, Rich interviewed Namdi Asomugha, who is a cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles (stick with me, non-NFL lovers) and one of the biggest names in the sport. And I was listening to the interview at the same time as the “Carlos Tevez refusing to play” incident happened in a game between Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

Asomugha signed a $60m five-year deal in the summer with the Eagles. Which is a huge amount. Almost as huge as the £230,000 a week Carlos Tevez gets (which amounts to around £12m per year, or £60m over five years). That is where the comparison starts to fall apart. Because while Tevez was refusing to play (after all, who would kick a ball around a field for a paltry quarter of a million a week?), I was listening to Asomugha talk about the Asomugha Foundation with intelligence and humility. I recommend taking a look at the site which is notable for a couple of things:

– the impressive set of programmes it runs
– the relative lack of any photos of the famous player behind it; rather, the website focuses on the work, the team, and the impact

And Asomugha is not a solitary example in the NFL. A few weeks later, Eisen was interviewing Adrian Peterson, another massive American Football star (running back for the Minnesota Vikings, since you asked), and he talked about his All Day Foundation, and how he is donating $5000 each time he scores a touchdown; a pledge which is being matched by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore each time. A couple of weeks back, the entire league supported the ‘Think Pink‘ campaign to raise awareness and funding for breast cancer: see the picture above to demonstrate the lengths to which players got involved. The recent poppy campaign for the British Legion is about as close as the Premier League has ever got; and it’s some way short of making the most of its potential.

Meanwhile, Premier League players do little by comparison. Some clubs have been pioneers in their community work (such as Charlton) but there is limited evidence of the players taking responsibility or showing behaviour suitable for role models: people like David James and Craig Bellamy are largely exceptions. [Carlos Tevez organises an annual charity golf tournament, which presumably raises significantly less than he was fined by Manchester City]  It was excellent to see the (fab) charity Street League supported in the most recent friendly, but there’s so much more that could be done. Manchester City recently put a call out via the sector trade press for two organisations to receive £50,000 each for a year. To put that in context, that’s about a day’s wages per organisation for Tevez. Or Yaya Toure. Indeed, if the entire Manchester City squad donated a day’s wages, I estimate that would be about £250,000 between them. (There was a partially successful attempt to do this in the past: see Footballers dig deep for nurses).

The biggest shame about this is that, particularly in the field of social enterprise, sport and football is a growing activity. Whether it’s FC United, AFC Wimbledon, Clyde or others who’ve benefited from the sterling work of Supporters’ Direct, there are a myriad number of community-based projects to get involved in. How refreshing would it be to see some Premier League footballers support some of these initiatives and invest some of their earnings in something completely in line with their own passion? How can we build the same culture of philanthropy and social action amongst the Premier League footballers so that, as with American footballers, it is expected?

And if they did? Well, maybe a great deal of good would be done, awareness raised, campaigns supported, and impact created. Including impact on the reputation of some of the footballers themselves. Or maybe some of those clubs would even follow in the footsteps of arguably the leading community-owned social enterprise team in the sporting world: the Green Bay Packers. Not only are the Packers the only community-owned team in the NFL, they are also the most successful in the league’s history. As they might say in Wisconsin, “Touchdown”.

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4 Responses to “What the NFL can teach the Premier League about philanthropy”

  1. Beanbags admin November 16, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    I think it’s worth bearing in mind that part of the US culture of philanthropy and social action is based on the fact that they don’t have a welfare state in the sense that we would understand it in Europe. There’s a greater need for philanthropy which prevents people ending up in prison or dead in the street – and I don’t think that’s a situation we should aspire to.

    Having said that, I agree the rich UK footballers seem to struggle to get beyond the tokenistic bare minimum in terms of philathropic effort – I don’t think this is as true of overseas players playing in the Premiership. Speaking as a non-graduate myself, maybe I can get away with suggesting this could be partly because (as I understand it) more US sportspeople come through the college/university system so might get more encouragement to combine their training with thinking.

  2. Seth Cochran November 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    Great post! I agree that there is a greater expectation in the US for rich people to help out. Too bad the bankers on wall street don’t take a lesson from our friends in the NFL. Thanks for the NFL podcast tips – I am so out of touch with my country’s sports. Too many years in Europe.

  3. David Masters January 3, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    I agree with Seth, great post!

    Premier League footballers do engage in lots of good work – especially visiting children in hospital – and it’s often under-reported. However, I agree that they could do even more (and with a bigger impact) if they focused on helping football-based social enterprises.

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