Topic: Sports & Entertainment Society

Andre Agassi
(June 2005)

It has become a cliché to complain about the character failings of professional athletes, exorbitantly paid public “heroes” who flop as role models by revealing themselves as selfish, boorish, arrogant, and even criminal. Of course, this mantra is grossly unfair: the vast majority of the participants in America’s pro sports are hard-working, decent, honorable men and women. But misbehaving pro athletes…such as Kenny Rogers, the Texas Ranger pitcher recently caught on tape assaulting an older and smaller cameraman for the offense of, well, being a cameraman…make for interesting stories, controversy, on-line polls and TV debates. The public seems quite ready to believe the worst of professional athletes in general, and this is partly because of the entrenched resentment toward a group that is perceived as receiving obscene undeserved amounts of money that would be better spent on charity, teachers, social-workers, cancer researchers, or, well, us.

There are pro athletes who actually feel the same way, and one in particular who has earned not only the June designation of Ethics Hero, but also far more publicity for his impressively ethical instincts than the sports media has accorded him. He is Andre Agassi, pro tennis champion on the downside of a long career, who, according to a recent survey by Sports Illustrated, far outstrips every other professional athlete in putting his riches to good use.

Agassi has made only a little over a million dollars in winnings this year, chump change by pro athlete standards, but his name and sterling reputation has brought him a whopping 44.5 million in product endorsement contracts. With that he funds his own charitable foundation, which this year gave over $11 million to the education of underprivileged children. Impressively, that amount is only slightly less than the total charitable contributions of the all the other professional athletes who make up SI’s “Top Ten” list of generous superstars: Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Mario Lemieux, Derek Jeter, Alonzo Mourning, Jeff Gordon, Val Skinner, Doug Flutie, and Mike Hampton. Agassi’s contributions stand out, not only because of their sheer size, but because they represent almost one-quarter of his yearly income. In contrast, to take one example, the financial donations of Number 3 on the list, golfer Tiger Woods, are less than 2% of his income.

So when the conversation at the coffee table, dinner table or poker table comes around to all those selfish, greedy and immoral pro athletes, speak up for Andre Agassi, a splendid role model for other sports stars as well as any of us, and a most deserving Ethics Hero.

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