Tom Brady did not go to the White House for last week’s Super Bowl victory celebration with Donald Trump, which fueled all kinds of speculation after the president’s non-mention of him during the ceremony. Nevertheless, the two reported friends definitely have one thing in common: Brady and Trump have both been accused of launching charities that boast their names, but not their funds.
According to the Boston Globe, Brady’s foundation, the Change the World Foundation Trust, dates back to 2005. It was initially funded with almost a half-million dollars, with all but $10,000 of it paid for personally by Brady. But since then, records made publicly available show that Brady has paid nothing into the foundation, which distributes grants to other non-profits aligned with Brady’s personal interests. Foundations affiliated with Brady’s alma maters, children’s private schools, or charities launched by Brady’s friends have been recipients of the trust’s funds year after year. But those donations were largely paid for by Best Buddies, a non-profit founded by Anthony Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver, the 1972 Democratic vice presidential nominee and nephew of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president.
Best Buddies says it is part of a world volunteer movement to increase opportunities for citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Year after year, Best Buddies has donated about $500,000 annually to Brady’s trust since 2011. The NGO credits Brady with helping the organization raise $46.5 million for the organization over the last 15 years.
No one is disputing the good work that Best Buddies does in communities here and the U.S. worldwide. And Brady has the right to donate as much money as he wants to the organizations of his choosing.
The problem, however, is that Brady appears to be making these donations with other people’s money. And as Nonprofit Quarterly has pointed out, the annual checks that Best Buddies pays to Brady’s Foundation come across as a quid pro quo for Brady’s involvement with Shriver’s organization. The gray area, according to some analysts, is that Best Buddies has not made it clear that the funds paid to Brady’s trust are a form compensation or honorarium, despite Shriver’s comments in recent years. And considering that Brady and his wife, Gisele Bundchen, are together reportedly worth over $540 million, any descriptions of them as “philanthropists” is a stretch if neither of them are the ones actually writing out the checks.
Another foundation of Brady’s, the TB12 Foundation, also raises questions as its mission is to “To enhance the health, well-being and athletic potential of promising young American amateur athletes by providing access to the TB12 Method of athletic training.” That pledge is similar to the mission of TB 12, a company with ties to Brady that sells athletic apparel, operates a fitness center and advises athletes on how to maintain peak athletic performance.
Brady may be a hero to many for his long football career and heroics in the most recent Super Bowl; New England Patriots fans adore him for his role in transforming a once-lethargic sports franchise into the most successful NFL team in recent years. But using charities to either boost your own company’s bottom line, or to pay for pet causes with someone else’s money – even if legal – crosses into a very grey area on the ethics front. At a time when many non-profits struggle to do good work without the benefits of headlines, Brady and his wife should reconsider what is best described as their self-serving approach to philanthropy.
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