Isn’t There Just One ?

August, 2011

Dear Indianapolis Star Editor:     Isn’t there just one?                                                   

I taught at a church youth camp last week on poverty and helping the poor as a source of many blessings, especially for those who give in some way of their time, talent, or treasure to folks struggling to find enough to eat or pay their electric bill.

Since Peyton Manning’s contract negotiations were in the headlines, it just came to me during the introduction of my talk to wonder out loud – “What in the world is Peyton going to do with more money than he’ll ever spend, especially a $24 million dollar a year salary?” Team owner Jim Irsay was willing to pay that to make him the highest paid NFL player ever. Since then, Peyton “stepped up” for the team’s sake and settled for only $18 million per year.

I went on to share what I have often pondered. What if one professional athlete– just one–who makes a minimum of, say $2 million dollars a year, were to decide that he can live more than adequately and comfortably on, for example, $200,000 a year. He would then give the rest of his salary, all of it after taxes and business expenses, to any legitimate social needs he or she felt drawn to support. How amazing and powerful that would be in a world addicted to greed, to more more more, and to the underlying misleading assumption that life and happiness consist in the abundance of possessions.

After a cursory Google search on Pro Athletes and their Foundations and charitable giving, I was pleasantly surprised to read an impressive list of rich athletes who are giving back (for example check out Athletesforcharity.com/foundation.)  From peytonmanning.com/payback-foundation, these stats:

The PeyBack Foundation funds various programs in Indiana, Louisiana and Tennessee.  The Foundation has distributed more than $4.3 million in grants since 2002, including $800,000 in May 2011 to 147 youth based organizations.  The Foundation provides assistance to programs such as Boys & Girls Clubs, area food banks, after-school programs, and summer camps.

That is about $482,000 a year (admirable), but only about 2.6% of his new annual salary (not including his endorsement income.) What if Peyton were to announce that since he already has more money than he and his children and his grandchildren will ever know how to spend, he has decided to live on $200,000 a year and give, say, $8 million a year to his foundation (based on Uncle taking his 45% plus other business expenses). Each year, those disadvantaged youth programs, and others like it throughout 50 states, could start to share almost 600% more per year than three states have enjoyed since he started this excellent Foundation.

If anyone chooses to respond by defending Peyton in some way, please – it’s not the point I’m musing about. It’s not about some judgment left only to God about Peyton’s or other pro athletes’ moral character. And of course I have no idea what percentage of Peyton’s take home pay he gives to other charitable causes. It’s not anyone’s business unless he makes it public.

I’m a huge fan of Peyton Manning’s athletic ability, mental focus, and work ethic. Huge! I would become an even bigger fan of him or any other professional athlete who would decide to live on “only” $200,000 a year, giving everything else society and business believe them to be worth as gifts to those struggling just to feed their children regular healthy meals, who live all around us. As Jeff Saturday recently said, “Athletes should lead by example.”

A very wise man who lived in the 4th century had this to say about maximum human happiness and fulfillment in this life: “The rich exist for the poor; but the poor exist for the salvation (wholeness, fullness) of the rich.”

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