In his weekly “Stories I’d like to see” columnist, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Looking at athletes’ charities:
I was at a dinner last week in which the featured speaker was New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Jeter spent much of the time talking about Turn 2, the foundation he and his family established soon after he joined the Yankees. It sponsors programs intended, as its mission statement explains, to get kids in impoverished communities “to turn away from drugs and alcohol and ‘Turn2’ healthy lifestyles.” There was also a video about the charity’s work and the hands-on involvement of Jeter, his parents and his sister.
It was impressive, and the foundation’s latest publicly available tax return (for 2010) supports that first impression. A relatively modest charity with about $3.4 million in assets, Turn 2 used those assets to spend about $200,000 more than the $2.3 million it received from investment income and contributions. The biggest contribution was almost $600,000 from Jeter; the rest came from donors such as Gatorade, Nike, and the Yankees. The money went to support a wide variety of after-school and summer sports clinics and other youth programs in New York, Tampa (where Jeter has a home and the Yankees train), and Kalamazoo, MI (where Jeter’s family lives).
Jeter, his sister and their parents draw no salaries, and the highest salary, $101,000, goes to a non-relative listed as the foundation’s full-time president.
On the other hand, there’s his teammate Alex Rodriguez’s AROD Family Foundation. It has a flashy website but has not filed a tax return since 2006. That tax return listed just $400,000 in income, $368,000 of which was from one fundraising event. Only $35,000 came from contributors, who were not listed.
A-Rod’s foundation paid out a mere $5,090 in grants and contributions — $5,000 to a Miami scholarship fund and $90 to a Miami little league.
About $103,000 was recorded for expenses other than those grants, meaning the foundation had a $295,000 profit, or about 75 percent on its $400,000 in income.
I have no way of knowing what has happened to the nearly moribund AROD foundation since 2006, and the website — which features A-Rod’s now-ex-wife (who signed the tax return) as his partner in the charity — appears not to have been updated since 2007. It would be interesting to find out.
Even more interesting would be a report on the most prominent athletes’ charities. Which ones do the most? Which do the least and are mostly for show? Do any of these IRS-sanctioned tax-exempt organizations pay friends or family members inappropriately high salaries? (There were no members of A-Rod’s family drawing a salary from his foundation.) And which not-so-prominent athletes devote substantial portions of their money and time to good works?
2. Ambulance chasing in Bangladesh?
Jim Yardley’s comprehensive report in The New York Times last Friday about the supply chain that links garments sold by major Western retailers to the sweatshop in Bangladesh where 112 workers were killed in a fire last month could provide a road map for plaintiffs lawyers — even the all-star American variety — to bring all kinds of suits, some of which may even be legitimate.
Major corporate brands like the ones Yardley cites, such as Wal-Mart and Sears, mean potential defendants with a lot deeper pockets than Bangladesh-based Tazreen Fashions Ltd. That’s the company that is reported to have operated the factory where Yardley described multiple violations of fire safety standards. Of course, there is the question of how to link a Wal-Mart or a Sears to any of the factory owners’ apparent negligence, much less blame them for it.
However, companies like Wal-Mart have been increasingly pressured into monitoring - and reporting publicly — conditions where their products are made, no matter where they are located or even if, as seems to have happened here, the manufacturers they sign up then assign the work to subcontractors.
That probably means some lawyers are trying to find clients to bring cases asserting that if companies like Wal-Mart claim to be monitoring and regulating those conditions, they should take responsibility when things go tragically wrong.
Why would American lawyers be involved if all the plaintiffs are families in Bangladesh? Because, as with the 1984 gas explosion disaster at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, the potential defendants would be Americans with deep pockets. Of course, the link between that Bangladesh sweatshop and an American retailer where its products end up is more tenuous than the link between Union Carbide’s American headquarters and its wholly owned plant in India. Yet it is hardly an impossible stretch, and there have to be some lawyers who think it is worth a shot.
So, it’s just a hunch, but I would bet there is a good story in Bangladesh about American lawyers trolling the neighborhoods where those workers lived looking for cases.
3. What happens to the most abhorred workplace screwups?
Last week a bus driver who fell asleep in March 2011 on a section of I-95 in the Bronx — which resulted in a crash that killed 15 passengers coming back from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut — was acquitted of manslaughter charges. The jury apparently decided that driving while sleep-deprived was not the same as driving while alcohol-impaired.
Bus driver Ophadell Williams’s situation reminds me of a type of story I would like to see: What happens to people who screw up so horrendously on the job that, although they may not get tossed in prison, they risk becoming the equivalent of workplace lepers?
Has Williams, 41, been able to find any way to support his family since the crash 18 months ago?
What about the person, or people, directly responsible for throwing the wrong switches that screwed up Nasdaq’s launch of the Facebook IPO? Or the J.P. Morgan traders who lost the firm billions in London? Did they lose their jobs? Assuming they did, have they been able to find employment?
Last week we heard about the fate of another worker whose mistake made headlines — the nurse who fell for a prank and believed that a caller seeking to learn the condition of Kate Middleton was indeed the Queen. The embarrassed nurse committed suicide within days. What about some of the others who have made far more consequential mistakes on the job?Steven Brill , the author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight To Fix America’s Schools, has written for magazines including New York, The New Yorker, Time, Harper's, and The New York Times Magazine. He founded and ran Court TV, The American Lawyer magazine, ten regional legal newspapers, and Brill's Content magazine. He also teaches journalism at Yale, where he founded the Yale Journalism Initiative.