By Nick Bower
No matter what uniform they showcase in their respective sport, many professional athletes and leagues are wearing green when it comes to supporting the environment. Despite little recognition from the media for their actions, numerous professional athletes in the United States, and the leagues they play in, are starting to focus their philanthropic ventures on environmental issues.
“Usually I just hear about athletes devoting their efforts to helping sick or less-fortunate children,” Andrew Gould, sports editor for the Ramapo News, said. “But environmental issues are not prevalent in the national spotlight, so athletes are not as inclined to address that cause. Not many athletes get their million-dollar check and think, ‘Now I can finally help combat climate change.’”
Still, there plenty of athletes who are concerned about environmental issues. The Earth Day Network established Athletes for the Earth, which brings Olympic and pro athletes to the environmental movement to act as spokespeople by using their fame to generate environmental awareness.
Athletes for the Earth
Athletes involved in Athletes for the Earth include Olympic Nordic skier Billy Demong, Olympic Alpine skiers Andrew Weibrecht and Allison Gannett, Olympic swimmer Aaron Peirsol, Andrew Ference, defenseman for the Boston Bruins of the NHL, and former NFL linebacker Dhani Jones.
The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) founded the Green Sports Alliance, a non-profit organization whose mission it is to help sports teams and leagues enhance their environmental performance. They are partners with over 160 sports teams in 15 sports leagues. Among some of the more prominent teams they have partnered with are the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Giants, New York Jets, San Francisco 49er’s, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as major NCAA Division I teams.
Green Sports Alliance
The featured partner of the Green Sports Alliance is Major League Soccer (MLS). Because of the NRDC, the MLS created the MLS Works Greener Goals. The goal of this initiative is to help reduce our carbon footprint, raise awareness of environmental issues throughout the United States, and find ways to help “green the game.” MLS Works Greener Goals also regulates environmental community initiatives for each team in the league.
Considering most sports either are played exclusively outdoors, or can be played outdoors recreationally, some may wonder why more organizations like these are not sprouting up all over the place. After all, athletes and sports fans everywhere rely on friendly environmental conditions to enjoy the game(s) they love.
“As a sports fan, I already see climate change affecting baseball,” said Ramapo News Sports Editor Andrew Gould. “Games are snowed out in April and October while most summer games are played on excruciatingly hot days.”
The major sports leagues in the United States are taking notice and are making small strides to make a difference environmentally. The National Hockey League (NHL) founded NHL Green, which partners with and is advised by EPA Wastewise, EPA Energy Star, Beyond Sport (an organization that uses athletes to drive social change), Green Sports Alliance and Natural Resource Defense Council.
Together, they created the Gallons for Goals campaign, which restored 1,000 gallons of water to a dewatered river through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation for every goal scored in the regular season; 3,822 goals were scored in the NHL season, resulting in 3,822,000 gallons of water were restored. Major League Baseball (MLB) is advised by the NRDC, and MLB commissioner Bud Selig won the first ever Environmental Leadership Reward last September.
NBA Green Week
Perhaps the most proactive league when it comes to environmental issues is the National Basketball Association (NBA). For the past five years, the NBA has partnered with the NRDC to hold NBA Green Week, which this year was April 4-12. During this week, the NBA raises funds and awareness for the environment.
Players wear NBA Green warm-up shirts for all their games during the week and the NBA highlights league and team environmental initiatives and in-arena awareness nights, recycling programs, and service projects. For example, the New York Knicks take part in “Trees for threes” where they plant a tree for every three-point basket the team makes. The Knicks broke the all-time NBA record for threes made in a season this past regular season.
“The NBA’s commitment to reduce its ecological impact and to help educate basketball fans worldwide about the importance of environmental protection confirms why this league is regarded as one of the worlds’ most responsible sports organizations,” NRDC senior scientist Allen Hershkowitz told NBA.com.
Two of the NBA’s biggest stars, Carmelo Anthony and Steve Nash, are leading the way in environmental awareness.
Anthony of the New York Knicks donated $3 million to Syracuse University to help build the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center. What is unique about this basketball center is that it is one of the only ones that is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Building, based on criteria from the Green Building Rating System.
The Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center uses 30 percent less water than typical basketball centers, and 20 percent less energy. More than half of the demolition and construction waste was recycled, while 20 percent of materials used to build it were recycled materials.
“It’s great that Anthony decided to make a permanent impact on Syracuse’s basketball program even though he attended the college for one year,” Gould said. “When a well-known person such as Anthony donates a large sum of money for an eco-friendly stadium, his peers will probably take notice and consider doing it too.”
Trash Talk Basketball Shoe
Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers has taken a different route in raising awareness for the environment. He partnered with Nike to produce the Trash Talk shoe, the first ever basketball shoe made entirely from manufacturing waste. The shoe, which meet’s Nike’s standards for durability, has leather and waste from the Nike factory floor, has a mid-sole made from scrap-ground foam from factory production and laces made from environmentally – preferred material.
Nash also owns a sports club in Vancouver. Like Anthony’s basketball center, it is LEED- certified. It contains a floating bamboo floor, flooring made from 100 percent recycled car tires, rugs made from recycled athletic shoe laces and lighting and appliances that are energy efficient.
“Everyone in general should try and educate themselves and try and get a little bit better at conserving and thinking about the environment,” Steve Nash told Canada.com. “If we can all just improve just a little bit, we’re going to go miles and miles toward beating this thing and curbing it. It’s important we all keep doing our part and it’ll get more and more contagious.”
Despite all this, the media pays little to no attention to athletes, teams or leagues when they take part in environmental issues. Gould has two theories.
“Maybe some people are still skeptical to climate change and other legitimate concerns,” Gould said. “Or, and this is a really cynical take, but some athletes pursue charitable causes for the positive publicity, and helping children incites a bigger emotional appeal than funding a building that uses less electricity.”
Nick Bower is a senior at Ramapo College majoring in journalism.