Ta’s Timeout: Soccer players and the practice of giving back

A male athlete in a red shirt stares forward.
Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portuguese professional soccer player, is one of the highest paid athletes in the world. (Courtesy of Dagur Brynjólfsson)

In soccer, philanthropy among professional players has always been important, but it’s become more and more prominent recently as soccer players’ public images have become increasingly impactful.  

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most famous charitable players, as well as one of the biggest names in soccer and the second highest paid athlete in the world, according to Forbes. He earned $109 million in 2019.

Ronaldo was also the most charitable athlete in the world in 2015, according to Athletes Gone Good.

The Juventus F.C. superstar was born off the western coast of Portugal, where he grew up in an impoverished household, in a classic “rags to riches” story, according to Biography.com.

At age 11, he left home to train with one of Portugal’s best soccer academies. Fast forward a few decades, and now he’s arguably the best player in the world — but the fame hasn’t stopped Ronaldo from forgetting about the less fortunate. 

Throughout his career, Ronaldo has made many contributions to charities supporting his hometown and other parts of the world. 

In 2017, he raised €600,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation by donating a replica of his 2013 Ballon d’Or, an award given to the best player over the previous year, according to Marca, a Spanish sports newspaper. Ronaldo’s decision to donate the trophy was out of the ordinary among those who have won it.

In 2016, he made an unspecified “generous donation” to the Save the Children Fund to help families in war-ravaged Syria, according to The Washington Post. And he’s been a global ambassador for the organization since 2013.

U.S. women’s soccer legend Mia Hamm has also used her success to contribute to charitable causes relating to issues to which she’s deeply connected. 

After losing her brother to a rare blood disorder in 1997, Hamm created the Mia Hamm Foundation, a non-profit that raises awareness and money for families needing bone marrow or cord blood transplants, according to the foundation’s mission statement.

The organization also supports sports programs for young women by cooperating with corporations and foundations to provide grants and host community events, according to the mission statement.

One of these initiatives was Soccer for Success, a year-long after-school program that offers soccer training sessions to young people. As part of this initiative, the Mia Hamm Foundation teamed up with Nike in 2015 to provide a grant that would allow 250 girls from East Los Angeles to participate, according to the U.S. Soccer Federation.

And it’s not just the big names who are giving back to their communities.

Manchester United’s Juan Mata, who is known as one of the nicest players in soccer, according to The Telegraph, has made a name for himself beyond the soccer pitch.

In 2017, Mata launched Common Goal, a charity movement through which professional soccer players and coaches pledge at least 1 percent of their salaries to a collective fund that supports global soccer charities, according to Common Goal’s website. Nearly 525 have joined so far.

U.S. women’s national team stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp, Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini, Bayern Munich’s Serge Gnabry and Canadian women’s team captain Christine Sinclair are among the movement’s most prominent members. 

Rapinoe has spearheaded several philanthropic initiatives over the years.

Having had the privilege to pursue multiple sports growing up and play soccer competitively, she considers it her duty to give back to others, believing that “everybody has a responsibility to try to make the world the best place it can be,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

Last year, Rapinoe teamed up with Shasta Regional Community Foundation to launch a fundraiser for victims of the Carr fire, which affected her hometown of Redding. The fundraiser raised around $57,000, according to the fundraiser’s Facebook page.

Rapinoe supports the American Civil Liberties Union, Seattle-area Boys and Girls Clubs and Athlete Ally, an LGBTQ+ athletic advocacy group.

Rapinoe’s platform and her uncompromising commitment to her ideals made her a role model for many young athletes worldwide. 

These athletes have raised the bar for those that come after them, emphasizing that part of being a professional athlete is about caring for humanity and using one’s platform for social change. 

Danny Ta PO ’22 is a math major from Ontario, California. In his free time, he enjoys being frustrated by the inconsistency of his favorite soccer team, Manchester United.

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