He might play rough on the field, but All American Ndamukong Suh set a record for kindness off the field when he made the largest single gift ever from a former football player to his alma mater, the University of Nebraska, where he became one of the most decorated college football players of all time. The Detroit Lions Defensive tackle contributed $2 million to the university athletic department and another $600,000 to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering to endow a scholarship.
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As if 30 Grand Slam titles, four Olympic Gold medals, and five World Number 1 singles rankings weren’t enough, Serena can’t seem to stop collecting acknowledgments for her charitable work: the Celebrity Role Model Award from the Avon Foundation for her work fighting breast cancer, the “Young Heroes Award” for her support of Big Brothers Big Sisters, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador…the list goes on. Over the years, Momma Smash has donated her time and formidable energies to a variety of causes, from building schools in Kenya to conducting clinics at schools and community centers for at-risk youth, and raising funds for Haiti earthquake victims.
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Long before his personal life became the stuff of national headlines, golf legend Tiger Woods was quietly funding one of the most generous foundations in professional sports. Since 1996, The Tiger Woods Foundation has raised more than $30 million to help underserved young people make their college dreams a reality through grants, internships, scholarships, and the Tiger Woods Learning Center, where students study subjects ranging from rocketry, aerospace engineering, and marine biology to graphic design and communications to prepare for college and future careers, and where they also play a little golf.
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One of only five players in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowl MVP awards (and renowned for leading what’s widely regarded as the greatest play in Super Bowl history), the player known as “Easy” for his on-field calm is also known for his off-field charity. A dedicated Hurricane Katrina volunteer, the Giants quarterback also raised $2.5 million for the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital and recently donated $1 million to the University of Mississippi’s Ole Miss Opportunity Scholarship fund.
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When NBA star LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers after eight years to join the Miami Heat, sports analysts, fans, and players criticized the much-hyped televised announcement. But “King James” used the broadcast, dubbed The Decision, to raise $2.5 million for his favorite cause, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and donated ad revenues of $3.5 million to other charities. James has also used his celebrity to support the Children’s Defense Fund and ONExONE, and established the LeBron James Family Foundation.
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Both a first baseman and an outfielder, The Big Puma has played for the Houston Astros, the New York Yankees, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Off the field, he’s also spread his resources around, donating almost $2.5 million through his foundation, The Lords’ Fund, to a variety of faith-based organizations in Eastern Europe, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe—with efforts underway in Vietnam and the Philippines—to support their work with children in need.
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Yep, he’s a hard-core player. But he’s got a soft heart. A longtime UNICEF supporter, Beckham’s been a Goodwill Ambassador since 2005 and his work with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children earned him a spot in that organization’s Hall of Fame. He’s a founding member of Malaria No More, a supporter of Help for Heroes, aimed at helping injured service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and he’s lent his support to Unite for Children/Unite Against AIDS, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. His own charity, the Victoria and David Beckham Charitable Trust, focuses on homelessness, poverty, education, and healthy living.
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More Great Reading
You may have noticed the lack of women on our list of the most generous athletes. Women just don’t make as much or have as many opportunities in pro-sports. A bright spot? On August 9, Shannon Eastin made history as the first female on-field official for an NFL game. Amid a labor dispute between the league and its officials, Eastin was selected as a line judge for a preseason game between the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers. Learn about these 10 Women Referees Calling the Shots in Men’s Sports.