Randy Shaver's on-air cancer foundation plugs are "ethically questionable," professor says

Shaver says he doesn't pressure schools into participating and doesn't let his foundation impact his coverage.
Shaver says he doesn't pressure schools into participating and doesn't let his foundation impact his coverage.

:::: UPDATE :::: KARE 11's Randy Shaver responds to "experts" questioning his ethics

Randy Shaver, a longtime KARE 11 TV anchor, hosts a Friday night show focused on high school sports. He's also a cancer survivor who founded a foundation named the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund.

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This fall, the Minnesota Football Coaches Association contacted high schools to ask if they'd be up for hosting "Tackle Cancer" nights during football games, with proceeds to go toward Shaver's foundation. Nearly 140 schools agreed to participate, and in some cases Shaver plugged the events during his prep sports shows.

From the Star Tribune:

"Final score tonight: Mounds View winning at home on 'Tackle Cancer Night', 40-0," [Shaver] told his Channel 11 viewers during an October telecast. "They did a nice job raising money. Here's the highlights of the game."

A "Tackle Cancer Night" brochure, featuring Shaver, suggested that schools "organize a group of lower level players or parents" to collect money at the gate, and said the team raising the most money would be featured on Shaver's TV show. On one of his prep sports shows, Shaver told his viewers that "in Waterville, just west of Faribault, that town, that team raised $4,500 for 'Tackle Cancer,' mostly by selling T-shirts and sweatshirts."...

Shaver's foundation, which in 2009 paid Shaver's wife $10,400 as its vice president and treasurer, has raised $4 million for cancer research since the 1990s and collected more than $118,000 during this fall's inaugural "Tackle Cancer" campaign...

The Strib report details how Shaver's foundation competes with the American Cancer Society for the right to fundraise at games. The American Cancer Society raised $200,000 from its "Coaches vs. Cancer" campaign during the 2011-12 school year -- a bit more than what Shaver brought in with his "Tackle Cancer" events this fall.

But not all schools are comfortable with the two-pronged fundraising push. Speaking of Shaver's foundation and the American Cancer Society, Jamie Sherwood, activities director at Wayzata High School, told the Strib: "We try to keep them out of our athletic venues because I just don't think that's what people buy a ticket for."

Shaver's on-air plugs have also drawn criticism. Gary Schwitzer, a blogger for Health News Review, lists some of the reasons he's not comfortable with Shaver speaking on behalf of "Tackle Cancer" events during his prep sports show:

-- Shaver claims no conflict, yet his wife is paid.
-- The high school kids involved are minors.
-- Is there at least a subtle coercion involved by a TV-airtime-controlling personality recruiting kids to raise money for his foundation? [During one show, Shaver said: "The Irondale quarterback sent me a check -- sent a check to 'Tackle Cancer.' (How) about that? Two hundred and thirty-one dollars out of his own pocket."]
-- How, precisely, is the money that is raised actually spent?
-- What percentage of the funds raised goes to administration/marketing, etc.?

In a sidebar to Mike Kaszuba's Strib story, Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the U of M, characterized Shaver's on-air plugs as "ethically questionable."

"He's using what is essentially a news program to promote a foundation -- a charitable foundation -- in which he has a stake," Kirtley told the Strib, adding that she believes Shaver is motivated by the common notion he's "on the side of the angels here, and how can anybody doubt your pureness of heart?"

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Shaver contacted high schools to inquire about whether they'd host a "Tackle Cancer Night." That work was actually done by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association. We apologize for the error.

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