No Such Thing as a Free Throw

When a squad of St. Louis Rams plays ball for a local church, everybody benefits

It's hardly unusual for athletes to be compensated for appearing at trade shows, corporate conventions or charity events. But players of the caliber of, say, Rams quarterback Kurt Warner typically attract well-heeled contributors who more than make up for the outlay. That's not the case at Calvary.

"The onus falls as much on the charity to ask if that fee can be waived as it does on the athlete," asserts Hadley Morash, executive director of the Boston-based MVPhilanthropy, which counsels athletes on philanthropic matters. "It seems if you're only raising a small amount of money to pay costs, that isn't a wise move by the charity. I know appearance fees are pretty standard at trade shows. If they were just going to sign autographs, they would get a pretty substantial fee for that. These guys should have been asked to waive their appearance fee, and I would hope that they would."

Timmerman, a generous philanthropist who gives regularly to the United Way and other charities, doesn't see a problem with the Calvary arrangement. "A lot of the cases, it's away from where guys live. I won't be getting paid anything. I never really have," he says. "I think some of the guys do that. It just depends on who you are. Some of the guys who play are younger."

Moreover, the offensive lineman is concerned that calling attention to the fee aspect might have negative repercussions. "Guys aren't going play in games, and then you're going to hurt charities," Timmerman predicts. "I think you're just trying to drag some players through the mud here."

Lake says he suggested ways in which Calvary could leverage its event to raise more money. "When I discussed this with Curt [Neff] on the phone, I discussed a lot of ways they could make money," says Lake. "They just want the experience. Their congregation is pretty strong, and their finances are in shape. Curt has dealt with me before; he knows what the fee is. If ticket sales aren't good, we're not gonna make them take a loss. We're flexible in what we charge. There's not a flat fee."

Agrees Neff: "The whole purpose of us doing this is to create a fun evening for people at our church. Some of those guys who aren't first-stringers, maybe it's a way for them to make some extra money."

Doubtless that extra money came in handy on top of the NFL's $300,000 minimum salary for veterans ($225,000 for rookies).

Last month, Vianney High School staged an exhibition basketball game that pitted a team of faculty members against a crew of Rams at St. Louis Community College-Meramec. According to Pete Cerone of Vianney's development office, that event was organized by Lake's boss, Rams equipment manager Todd Hewitt. "Todd's son, junior Travis Hewitt, is Vianney's starting quarterback," Cerone explains. "I did a lot of the PR for the event, tied up a lot of the little odds and ends. We put together a little program for it. We had T-shirts made. We rented out the gym at Meramec. All the Rams did it for free. They didn't ask for anything for their appearance. They sign autographs. They take pictures with the kids.

"The Rams beat us the last two years," Cerone adds. "They're much better athletes than our faculty."

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