Pro athletes give back with own charities

The Braves, Hawks, Falcons and Thrashers are all philanthropic power players. In addition to official team foundations, many players operate their own charitable endeavors.

“It’s probably not the best time to start a nonprofit, but God will make things happen,” Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, who with his wife, Kim, just launched the Hudson Family Foundation to aid children’s charities, said recently.

The Atlanta Braves Foundation, started in 1992, raises nearly $3 million a year for charity through events like the Diamond Gala, held early this year at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead.

“We play the game of baseball for a living, we’re very blessed. It’s our duty to give back,” catcher Brian McCann, who has also supported events for the Homeless Pets Foundation, the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research and Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, told us that night.

The Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, established in 1985, has provided more than $16 million in grants to nonprofits. Players regularly attend functions such as this spring’s Boys & Girls Club’s Hometown Heroes gala, held on the field at the Georgia Dome. “It’s always important to reach out to the youth,” quarterback Matt Ryan said.

Such functions give fans the opportunity to mingle with players while raising money. Diamond gala patrons kept Braves third baseman Chipper Jones busy posing for pictures, which he was happy to do.

“I would be really worried if they weren’t asking for my autograph, “ he mused.

The Thrashers Foundation, started in 1999, has granted $4 million to more than 2,000 Georgia charities. The Hawks Foundation’s annual golf tournament, started in 1994, has raised more than $1 million for youth groups.

Athlete charity doesn’t always involve a huge bash. Al Horford of the Hawks had dinner and played games with 25 children from the Stepping Ahead Program at Dave & Buster’s in Marietta just before the holidays last December. Also during last year’s holiday season, Falcons players Jonathan Babineaux, Chauncey Davis and Kindal Moorehead (who was later released by the team) visited the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children. Babineaux, who spoke to guests at last fall’s Meal to Remember gala benefiting Atlanta’s Meals on Wheels, has volunteered with the folks who make deliveries.

He chuckled as he recalled the delighted seniors he served. Expecting their usual Meals on Wheels volunteer, the recipients instead found “a big guy on their doorstep, with a big ole smile.”