The Boston Red Sox Charity & Public Duty

The Boston Globe reported this week that during the 10-year ownership of the Red Sox by John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino and their partners, the team has contributed more than $52 million to charity, the most by any team in baseball, and probably in all professional sports.

It affirms what I have repeatedly said about the Boston Red Sox having the highest civic ethic of any team in sports; now we have independent confirmation.

When the Henry, Werner, Lucchino group took ownership of the Red Sox they did so with significant opposition by Proper Bostonians, who can be oddly insular given their city’s place in American history, and were in their attitude about out-of-towners buying their team.

In their opposition they erred, greatly, as two World Series Championship teams, the  $250 million restoration and redemption of Fenway Park (no public money), and charitable gifts of $52 million to non-profits in Boston, the Commonwealth, and New England, might suggest.

When I am asked about my relationship with the Red Sox, as chairman of The Great Fenway Park Writers Series, I have steadfastly said it’s not about the team on the field, but rather the team in the front office and their extraordinary civic ethic.

Since I’m not stupid I understand why it’s important for the Red Sox to do well on the field of play, but that isn’t happening absent the Henry, Werner, Lucchino brain trust and their enlightened sense of civic engagement.

I do not believe anyone gets a pass in this life. We are here to serve others, a manifest obligation that includes companies and corporations, large and small, national and global; and because of the special hold they have on millions of fans, no obligation to serve is greater than that of professional sports teams – as the Red Sox, under Henry, Werner and Lucchino, have consistently demonstrated.

The Globe story appeared the same day it was announced the San Diego Padres were sold to a consortium headed by the O’Malley family for $800 million.

I do not know the O’Malleys and have no idea of their understanding of civic engagement, but I do know Tom Garfinkel, the team’s president and CEO, and if he’s staying as is claimed, then I have hope the O’Malleys will mirror the Red Sox.

In reading the Globe story I learned something I had no clue about. It’s right there in the lead paragraph of Bella English’s article:

“Ten years ago, when the Boston Red Sox were sold to a trio of out-of-staters, the new owners signed a contract with state Attorney General Tom Reilly, promising to raise $20 million for area charities over 10 years. Soon after acquiring the team in February 2002, they established the Red Sox Foundation to fulfill that duty.”

Did you read that? Did you read that Henry, Werner, Lucchino and their partners signed a contract with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts pledging $20 million to charity over 10-years.”

Has any professional sports team, or any other private company or corporation, ever before signed such an agreement with a state, county or city pledging any amount to charities, much less $20 million?

I’m reasonably certain nothing like that has ever occurred here in “America’s finest city.”

Neither the Chargers nor Padres have ever signed such an agreement, not because they wouldn’t, although that would be a reasonable assumption,  but because they were never asked.

And shouldn’t they be asked? But not them alone, but every company doing business with the city, county or state. Moreover, shouldn’t every company doing business with the Federal Government be obligated to share their successes with charitable organizations? Especially in a place like San Diego, where great wealth has been achieved in whole or part because of military and defense contracts.

There are hundreds of sweetheart deals in San Diego between private companies and public agencies that also accrue substantial wealth to their owners, who appear to give little in return, while enjoying near monopolies (would that apply to Ace Parking, Time Warner, Cox?).

Wouldn’t it fair, therefore, to ask individuals or companies doing business with government, to share a percentage of their success with charitable organizations, as have the Boston Red Sox?

To even suggest such an idea in our town will be seen as radical, but everyone knows there are certain inherent costs in doing business, why then shouldn’t charitable giving be one of them?

I put that question to mayoral candidate Bob Filner and he answered “Yes”, but added there are other requirements the city needs to encourage, not least the haring of veterans when employment opportunities come open, that the 33 percent unemployment rate among those who have served America is a disgrace and must be addressed.

He also said, that out of a spirit of civic engagement and sharing, he will ask the six-to-six school program be broadened by inviting companies to become partners in mentoring students, and will extend that challenge to include all of us.

I hope the example of the Boston Red Sox charity and extraordinary philanthropy inspires other companies and businesses to adopt a similar ethic; but if not, obligating them to do so is a government option worthy of serious deliberation.