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The Challenge of Sports Celebrities for Charities

I love sports and I love athletes and it’s been my pleasure to be around Heisman Trophy winners, two-sport legends, Super Bowl MVPs, NBA 7-footers, and first-round draft picks, all in charitable settings. I’ve even got an autograph from futbol marvel Pele.

Smart sports agents try to get their athletes involved with causes because it helps broaden their appeal. Not that they necessarily need it. In certain pro sports towns (as well as at all the SEC schools!) highly-paid athletes stroll around among us like demigods down from Olympus.

For instance, I can all but guarantee that Ben Roethlisberger, the controversial Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has never bought his own drink in Steeltown. A Pittsburgh-area cause that can entice Big Ben to support them with his presence is all but assured of selling out that event.

But just 300 miles away in Philadelphia or 250 miles away in Cleveland, Roethlisberger couldn’t get a cab at the airport or sell his signed jersey for $1 at a charity event there.

That’s one of the problems with national charities taking on athletes as their spokespeople; rare is the player... active or retired... who can transcend his own fanbase.

The Muscular Dystrophy Association has its annual Telethon coming up in a few weeks the Sunday before Labor Day. The MDA has already announced that Founder Jerry Lewis won’t be hosting. And so for the last several months the MDA has been advertising the roster of replacement hosts, among them Nancy O’Dell, Allison Sweeney, and Tom Bergeron.

NFL legend Kurt Warner, seen above in one of those ads, will have an undefined on-camera role, the MDA’s press release says.

Warner is very likeable and a straight shooter whose charitable inclinations ring genuine. He’s got a wonderful personal story. And he came with a hairsbreadth of bringing a Super Bowl trophy to my beloved Phoenix Cardinals before Ben Roethlisberger pulled off some last-second heroics in Super Bowl XLIII.

But admirable and likeable as Warner is, he’s just not a draw for the MDA outside of Phoenix and St. Louis, where he spent his early career.

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