ko te manaaki i ngā kaihākinakina | caring for New Zealand's sports community
Photo about generous sportspeople - person holding a sign saying 'Give. Thanks.'

‘Greedy, selfish and self-centred’ sportspeople; and how not to be one

This series is based on The Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing. Here in Part 2 we explore Give, tukua, looking at some generous sportspeople and why it’s good to be one. 

See also Part 1: Why sportspeople need to connect meaningfully with others, why it’s hard, and what you can do about it.


You’ve probably heard some of these criticisms of top sportspeople:



Justified? Yes and no.

Firstly, I’d say that it’s not only athletes who are greedy, selfish and self-centred. I’ll put my hand up for that one too: guilty. In fact I’d say that everyone I know is greedy, selfish and self-centred, and I happen to know some pretty good people.


So maybe it’s not that athletes are particularly bad, but that they are more in the spotlight.


Secondly, the very nature of sport can breed selfishness. The great Michael Jordan even says, ‘To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve.’ 


To be successful in sport you have to be single-minded. As a result you have to say ‘no’ to things that don’t help you reach your goals. You also understand that there can only be one winner. Helping out others along the way may jeopardise your own chances. As well as this, successful sportspeople have support people around them whose job is solely to meet the athlete’s needs. 


Thirdly, our society can breed selfishness in athletes. You can be worshiped by thousands, or millions, and you are also idolised, told you are the greatest, and paid sometimes obscene amounts of money.


And it’s not healthy.


The problem with selfishness

A self-centred life is an unhappy life. Many top athletes become casualties as a result. We wonder why those who seem to have it all engage in self-destructive behaviour. Then the adoring public turns against them, sponsors quit, and things spiral downwards.


A very wise man once said ‘It is better to give than to receive’. These words of two thousand years ago have been proven by the experience of millions of people, and also by modern science. Research shows that people who give their time and money to help others, will feel better and live longer (Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: It’s good to be good. International Journal of behavioral medicine, 12(2), 66-77).


Generous sportspeople

Andre Agassi knows this. For all his victories on the tennis court, he has found greater fulfilment in his charitable work. In his autobiography he talks about helping a friend, Frankie, by gifting him some shares in order to fund his childrens’ education. He writes:


Helping Frankie provides more satisfaction and makes me feel more connected and alive and myself than anything else that happens in 1996. I tell myself: Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting meaning. This is why we’re here.

Agassi (2009), Open: An Autobiography, Knopf: New York, p231.


‘Anything else that happens in 1996’ includes winning an Olympic gold medal.


Here’s some other generous sportspeople:

Serena Williams‘ charity work has involved funding the construction of schools in Kenya and Jamaica, and providing university scholarships for underprivileged students in the US. She supports many other charities including the Equal Justice Initiative which provides legal representation to those who can’t afford it, as well as the Purple Purse project which helps financially empower victims of domestic abuse.


Lebron James’ charitable foundation began After-School All-Stars for at-risk children in his home town. It heavily supports the Children’s Defense Fund, and ONEXONE, which also provides for needy children. James has donated $2.5 million each to Boys and Girls Clubs of America, as well as the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture.


Michael Phelps’ foundation promotes health and activity for children and also teaches them planning and goal setting. It is involved with Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the Special Olympics.


John Cena has granted over 500 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses, through the Make-a-Wish foundation.


Not just Americans

Roger Federer’s foundation promotes education in Africa, through supporting early childhood centres and primary schools.


Dan Carter formed the iSport Foundation with Ritchie McCaw and Ali Williams, to fund community projects, and he is an ambassador for CanTeen.


Cristiano Ronaldo is an ambassador for Save the Children, and the Mangrove Care Forum in Indonesia. He visited Indonesia following the Boxing Day tsunami and raised funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction. He provided funding for the construction of a cancer centre on his home island of Madeira, and paid specialist treatment for a nine-year old boy with cancer. Ronaldo has given 1.5 million euros for schools in Gaza. He has also been part of FIFA’s ‘11 for Health’ which teaches children to avoid dangers such as drug addiction, HIV, malaria and obesity.


David Beckham has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2005, a founding member of Malaria No More UK, a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and an advocate for Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative MLS WORKS.


Not always ‘greedy, selfish and self-centred’.


How can we be generous sportspeople?

Now I realise that you may not yet have achieved the income of Lebron James and co. in your sporting career, but you still have something you can give, whether money or time. Your gift doesn’t have to be in the millions of dollars to give you the real satisfaction and health benefits which come from doing something for others.


Here’s some ideas to help you get started:

  • Think about what areas you would like to support. Are there particular causes you are passionate about? Or areas of the world that you want to help? You won’t be able to help everyone, so think about what needs you will focus on.
  • Find out as much as you can about the cause that interests you. What work is currently being done? How could you get involved? Take the initiative to contact some organisations to find out.
  • Think about how much you want to give. Some generous sportspeople set aside a certain proportion of their total income, say 10%. Others choose to donate winnings from particular tournaments. Some people first work out how much they need to live on, then donate whatever they earn above that.
  • Similarly, consider how much time you have to give. Maybe you can volunteer regular times each week, or maybe you want focus your efforts in the off-season.
  • Think about encouraging your team or club to get involved in supporting a charity together for greater impact.
  • You can find details for all registered charities in New Zealand on the Charities Services website. There’s also useful information on the CharityWatchNZ blog, although the posts are all over two years old.
  • The Volunteering New Zealand website has details of your local Volunteer Centre, which can let you know about short- or long-term volunteering opportunities for individuals or groups.
  • As well as your planned giving, practice spontaneous random acts of kindness, like baking a cake for a neighbour, paying for a stranger’s parking, or buying a cup of coffee for someone working outside in the cold. You can find lots more ideas on Brad Aronson’s blog.


Can you think of other generous sportspeople? Who do you most admire?


Author Info

Rebecca Hawkins

Rebecca is the Communications and IT Manager for Sports Chaplaincy NZ. In her younger days she played cricket and football with great enthusiasm but very little skill. Now she spends a lot of time supporting her four sons in their sport. She especially loves scoring their cricket matches, which she insists on doing the old fashioned way, with pen and paper.

No Comments

Post a Comment