Want proof that blocking and tackling can help a cause greater than survival on the gridiron? This former San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle, inspired by teammate Ronnie Lott, created Champion Charities to raise money for research into the brain tumors that killed his parents, 10 years apart. Grateful for care provided at University of California-San Francisco Medical Center, Barton has fulfilled a $2.5 million pledge—among other brain-related donations to hospitals and organizations across the country. Barton learned the game at Stanford Golf Course after retiring from the NFL with three Super Bowl rings. Moved by meeting First Tee participants, he convened Steve Young, Joe Montana, Jim Plunkett, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and others to raise more than $1 million for First Tee outlets in San Francisco, Monterey County and Silicon Valley. "Golf events make sense to support golf," Barton says, but he'll stick with theater events for his charity: "The curtain goes up, and you're done. And it's something you can take kids to."
Junior BridgemanMore than 30 years ago, when he was playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, Junior Bridgeman was invited to participate in a golf event: Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer. Equipped with a golf bag, he showed up on the first tee and asked a stunned playing partner, "Which do I start with? The club with a 1 on it?" Since then Bridgeman has become a single-digit handicapper—which didn't come easy, he says—and a key backer of that event and several community youth programs. He plays in about a dozen other charity events each year, including Wisconsin's Heroes for Kids. NBA players looking to ensure their financial futures might want to sit down with Bridgeman to jot down a few notes. As owner of hundreds of Wendy's and Chili's restaurants—which generate enough revenue that Forbes ranks him among the wealthiest black Americans—Bridgeman will have no problem supplying napkins.
Warrick DunnThe former All-Pro Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back, who lost his police-officer single mother to a shooter when he was 18, began helping single-parent families who had realized the dream of home ownership shortly after he turned pro in 1997. By awarding grants to Habitat for Humanity chapters and providing complete home furnishings, Warrick Dunn Charities Inc. has helped more than 100 families. WDC provides assistance in Baton Rouge, La.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Tampa; and Atlanta, where Dunn is a minority owner of the Falcons and a member at The Golf Club of Georgia. The club hosts the golf fundraiser he launched in 2005 in Tampa as a way to connect with donors. A student of the game, having taken it up as a networking tool before leaving college, Dunn is pursuing an M.B.A. at Emory while continuing to focus on his charity's initiatives. To learn more about the innovative $12 campaign (people donate $1 a month), please visit wdc.org.