But What About the Athletes?

At a bar in Livingston, Montana, I once sat down with Doug Peacock, a beleaguered Vietnam veteran, grizzly bear expert and model for Ed Abbey’s character, Hayduke.  I can remember Peacock slowly observing and studying me while we drank.  He grew increasingly comfortable with the things I said: I was clearly like-minded in my feelings towards environmental and conservation issues. I loved beat writing and literature.  I liked wild places and solitude.  Then we got to the athlete thing and it was clear that Peacock was backpedaling.  I’m not sure he thought athletics was worth the time.  Finally, he articulated a few phrases that have bounced around my head since I left the bar in Livingston, “Don’t get me wrong,” He said. “Athletics are a valid way to organize a life.  A perfectly valid way… like art or music.   (Athletics) just can’t trump everything else in the rest of the world, which it tends to do in our culture.”

Enter the athletic ambassadors for 350.  Since being enlisted by Bill McKibben to work with this 350 project, I’ve been both over- and under- whelmed by athletes.  Turn on the tv and you’ll find images of self-indulgent super stars wasting away in the warm glow of their celebrity.  Fortunately, you’ll find exceptions to the rule as well.  Those are the 350athletes.  They have been busy.  A few examples: Freeskier Chris Davenport requested more of the iconic green wristbands to push off on fellow skiers while continuing his self-propelled trips up Colorado’s toughest peaks.  Renown climber, Conrad Anker, had the 350 logo emblazoned on his portaledge during a recent trip to the Himalayas.  The logo makes a cameo in an upcoming film about his climbs sponsored by the North Face clothing company.  The MetLife cycling team, a regional pro-am group based out of Boston have offered up some prime real estate on their jerseys  and have offset their carbon emissions to push the cause.  Canadian super skiers, Thomas Grandi and Sara Renner organized a 350 bike ride back in October to push awareness. Grani made 350 the prime “sponsor” for his column on skiing’s international website FIS-ski.com.  Triathletes from London.  Pro-mountain bikers from Seattle. Climber. Baseball players. Even synchronized swimmers want to be involved. Some have posted 350 news to their personal blogs and written stories, pushing insight and action from otherwise uninitiated sports fans.  Some have gone further organizing actions and working on ideas for the upcoming October 24th movement.  Still others are piecing together where they’ll fit in with what feels to be a new order in sustainability, the  global economy and a world pushing for 350 parts per million.

On April 7th, the role that sustainability will play in athletics will be the topic of discussion for an athlete panel of concerned heroes.  Dhani Jones, star of the Travel Channel’s “Dhani Tackles the Globe” will share his considerable insights. An NFL player with the Cincinnati Bengals, Jones rides a bike to the stadium for practices & games, works with Al Gore’s climate change initiative and has promoted the World Food Program.  Jones is starring in a Travel Channel show highlighting different cultures in sport.  His huge love for living, authority on sport and understanding of the big issues of climate change make Dhani a key player in sport and sustainability.

Joining Dhani will be pro soccer player, Natalie Spilger of the Chicago Red Stars. Spilger left soccer after a strong career at Stanford University. Time spent away from soccer had a profound impact on her life. She spent lots of time traveling abroad and “rediscovering” herself. A graduate of Stanford University, Spilger followed her interest in the environment to EMCOR Energy Services, where she worked as an energy engineer  .As the California native returned to professional soccer, Spilger worked to find a way to bring her passion for the environment along with her. In 2008, GreenLaces was born.  A nonprofit organization, GreenLaces’s mission is to activate athletes to be global leaders in the country. The organization works with youth athletic leagues and after-school programs to educate children on the importance of recycling and eco-friendly lifestyles. It also recruits professional athletes that work to protect the environment to make their efforts public by publishing them online. Among the elite athletes to join GreenLaces so far are US softball pitcher Cat Ostermann, US soccer players Heather O’Reilly and Hope Solo and former national team member Brandi Chastain – who serves on the organization’s Board of Directors.

Finally, sports writer, Alex Wolff will round out the small group. Wolff has been a member of the Sports Illustrated staff since 1980. Although his primary focus has been basketball, he has also covered a variety of sports, including tennis, cycling, football and several Olympic Games.  In 2007, Wolff wrote Going, Going Green, an article that helped sports fans measure the effects of climate change on sport:  “The next time a ball game gets rained out during the September stretch run, you can curse the momentary worthlessness of those tickets in your pocket. Or you can wonder why it got rained out — and ask yourself why practice had to be called off last summer on a day when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; and why that Gulf Coast wharf where you used to reel in mackerel and flounder no longer exists; and why it’s been more than one winter since you pulled those titanium skis out of the garage.”  Wolff is also the owner of the Vermont Frost Heaves, a premier basketball league team based in Williston, Vermont.  The Frost Heaves have taken on a number of sustainability measures to reduce their carbon footprint.  Recently, the Heaves became 350athletes.

This panel will take place at Middlebury College and include questions from student athletes, multi media showcasing the panelists’ work, as well as tough questions about how one, in fact, does organize a sustainable life around athletics.

It’s likely that there are more folks on the planet that identify Ken Takahashi’s ERA from last year in Japan than James Hansen’s magic climate change number.  But if Takahashi suddenly started wearing a green band, a few wayward baseball fans would put together that the numbers are the same.  (Takahashi maintained a 3.50 last season.)  Were this to happen, suddenly baseball fans would be aware of climate change at a time other than a rain delay. This is where athletes are huge.  This is where the change can happen…is happening.

There are precious few innings, meets, scrums, runs, and stages before the International Day of action on October 24th.  In addition to the April 7th panel, the 350athletes are going to be busy.  Keep an eye out for the green bands, or for conspicuous athletes that should have them.  Speaking of which, if anyone has Ken Takahashi’s phone number, send it my way.  I want to invite him to have beers with Peacock & I the next time we’re all in Livingston, Montana.   We need to discuss life organization again.

 

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