* Back in 1907!
College Football Hall of Fame coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, one of the sport’s early innovators, became an unwitting #GreenSports pioneer by having his University of Chicago Maroons eat a vegetarian diet during their 1907 Western Conference championship season. Fast-forward to the present and the NBA’s sustainability efforts continue on the eve of the start of the 2018-19 season as the Indiana Pacers installed a green roof on its training facility. And Seattle-based strategic climate action communications expert Andrea Learned pressed bike commuting as an easy, low cost way to fight climate change at the recent Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. All in a multi-generational GSB News & Notes column!
U OF CHICAGO FOOTBALL STARTED #GREENSPORTS MOVEMENT WITHOUT KNOWING IT IN 1907 BY EATING A VEGETARIAN DIET
The University of Chicago now plays football at the small-college, Division III level. But the Maroons were a power back in the late 19th-early 20th century and were involved in two of the game’s most important firsts.
- The finest moment in the school’s football history took place in 1934 when Maroons running back Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy as college football’s finest player.
- Twenty seven years earlier, legendary coach Amos Alonzo Stagg converted the team to an all-vegetarian diet, revolutionary for that time. Heck, that would be considered radical today. Coach Stagg thus unknowingly planted the seed for the Green-Sports movement about a century before it actually took root.
The latter story came to light in Tal McThenia’s fascinating “How a Football Team Became Mascots for Vegetarianism,” which appeared in the August issue of Atlas Obscura.
Here’s what I found most interesting:
- Football was already in a period of rapid evolution in 1907. The forward pass was legalized a year earlier a way to open up the game.
- Coach Stagg, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, adopted vegetarianism in 1905 and brought it to his squad two years later, believing “the non-flesh-eater shows far greater endurance than the athlete who eats flesh.”
- Newspapers across the country savaged Stagg. “‘Vegetarians Only,’ sneered the Boston Globe. ‘Vegetable Football,’ quipped a wire story…The Chicago Inter-Ocean wrote, ‘Dried Apples, Prunes, Nuts, and Water for Maroon Team,’ while the Tribune declared ‘Kickers to Train on Squash.'”
- Ex-Maroon superstar quarterback turned rookie Trib sportswriter Walter “Eckie” Eckersall nicknamed his alma mater The Vegetarians.
- Technically, vegetarianism could only be a suggestion to the team but “Stagg, who had long insisted on abstinence from smoking, drinking, and cursing, enjoyed fierce loyalty from his squad, which meant, as one paper put it, ‘his suggestions are law.'”
Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg (top row center in hat) and the 1907 University of Chicago Football Team (Photo credit: Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)
When the season opening game arrived against the visiting Indiana Hoosiers, McThenia reported that Maroons fans unveiled a new, veggie-themed cheer:
“Sweet potatoes, rutabagas, sauerkraut, squash!
Run your legs off, Cap’n De Tray^!
Sure, our milk fed men, by gosh!
Will lick ’em bad today!”
We’ll never know if it was the vegetarian diet — and/or the cheer — that did the trick for Chicago but they won easily over the Hoosiers, 27-6. Road victories at Illinois and Minnesota followed, and then came a home drubbing of Purdue, 56-0. Their 4-0 record earned the Maroons the championship of the Western Conference, the precursor to the Big Ten (seasons were much shorter back then). A non-league loss at home to the Carlisle Indians did little to dampen the fans’ enthusiasm for the team nor Coach Stagg’s conviction that the vegetarian diet had played a positive role in Chicago’s title-winning campaign.
A 1907 article on Coach Stagg’s “vegetable food” (Photo credit: Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)
Despite the team’s success in 1907, as the 1908 season beckoned, the coach’s ardor for vegetarianism had waned somewhat, both for himself and the team. Per McThenia, Stagg “recalls going flesh-free entirely for only two years, as part of a (failed) effort to eliminate the source of chronic sciatic pain.” As for the Maroons, Stagg continued to encourage a vegetarian diet but no longer pushed it. And, always on the lookout for a new strategy, the coach brought a new “thing” to the squad that year; stimulation by oxygen.
GSB’s Take: Atlas Obscura, the site that ran Tal McThenia’s story on The Vegetarians, is fascinating. It is a self-described “global community of explorers, who have together created a comprehensive database of the world’s most wondrous places and foods.” So if you’re looking for, well, obscure places to visit, check out Atlas Obscura.
Back to The Vegetarians…More than a century later, there are several athletes and teams who have taken the vegetarian baton from the 1907 University of Chicago Maroons, including the all-vegan English fourth division soccer team Forest Green Rovers, Leilani Münter, the “vegan, hippie chick with a race car,” and 11 members of the 2016 Tennessee Titans who adopted a vegetarian diet. Hopefully when the sports media writes about vegetarian-vegan athletes and teams, it will pick up on the climate change-fighting aspects of veggie and vegan diets, most notably that it takes 8-10 times as much energy for meat to get to one’s plate as compared to fruit, grains and vegetables.
Finally, how ironic is it that Chicago, known for a century or a more as the meat production capital of the U.S. — one of its nicknames is “The Hog Butcher of the World” — is also the home to college football’s first/only all-vegetarian team?
INDIANA PACERS PLANT GREEN ROOF ON NEW TRAINING FACILITY
When Victor Oladipo and his Indiana Pacers teammates reported for training camp on September 22nd at their one year-old St. Vincent (training) Center, they did so under a new 8,500 square foot rooftop garden. About 37 percent of the garden is devoted to wildflowers, crops, and plants indigenous to Indiana.
Two views of the new green roof at St. Vincent Center, the new training facility of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers (Photo credits: Christopher Cason)
According to Christoper Cason, writing in the September 16 issue of The Score, “Architecture firm RATIO, along with the Pacers, wanted something that would…set the franchise apart from other professional sports teams. RATIO reached out to Omni Ecosystems in 2015 about installing a green-roof system that would help regulate the building’s temperature and manage stormwater.” Omni builds green-roof and green-wall systems that support a wide range of plants — including foods— as well as grasses and wildflowers.
The St. Vincent Center roof grows tomatoes, basil, beets, bok choy, carrots, green beans, kale, turnips, radish, and Swiss chard. Per Cason, “Instead of soil, the garden uses an engineered growing media that includes lightweight rocks, specific nutrients, and…earthworms.” The harvested vegetables will be used this season by Levy, the Pacers’ food service provider, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the team’s arena next door. Any excess produce will be donated to Second Helpings, a local hunger relief non-profit.
The garden also acts as a natural HVAC system, keeping St. Vincent Center cool in hot weather and warm in the winter. This will mean lower energy bills and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
“We’ve implemented a number of measures and campaigns around sustainability and conservation,” Brent Rockwood, senior vice president of corporate, community, and public relations for Pacers Sports & Entertainment, told Cason. “… We strive to set a positive example of environmental responsibility and innovation, and the green roof that sits atop the St. Vincent Center is a big piece to that.”
GSB’s Take: The NBA is upping their green game this season, especially at their training centers. In addition to the Pacers green roof, the LA Lakers recently installed solar panels on the roof of their new UCLA Health Training Center.
CYCLING MUST BE A MUCH BIGGER PART OF THE URBAN CLIMATE CHANGE SOLUTIONS MIX, SAYS ANDREA LEARNED OF #BIKES4CLIMATE AT GLOBAL CLIMATE ACTION SUMMIT
Seattle-based Andrea Learned is a multi-faceted individual.
She’s a strategic climate action communications expert who is well-known for her Twitter presence and her Learned On blog. Learned has worked with NGOs and corporations on their sustainability leadership platforms. And she’s a passionate urban biking advocate, having started for purely practical reasons some twenty years ago in Portland, OR.
Learned brought all of those skillsets to last month’s Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco. She had hoped to see the climate change-fighting impacts of urban cycling — and walking — get visible and loud discussion as the low-hanging climate action fruit it should be.
Andrea Learned, donning the “Make America Green Again” cap, with Kate White, Deputy Secretary, Environmental Policy and Housing Coordination at the California State Transportation Agency (Photo credit: Kate White)
After all, it makes too much sense.
Per Eillie Anzilotti, writing about Learned and the GCAS in the September 27 issue of Fast Company, research shows that if, “globally, cycling commuting rates can rise from their current level of 6 percent (only around 1 percent in the U.S.) to around 14 percent, urban carbon emissions will drop 11 percent. Boosting pedestrian commuting would have similar benefits.”
Unfortunately, GCAS chose to ignore that low-hanging climate action fruit, as there was little evidence of these human-scale endeavors on the main stage. More Anzilotti: “In the summit’s list of key challenges, sustainable transportation appeared as something of a footnote; discussion of cycling and walking was often drowned out by talk of the admittedly more futuristic and startup-friendly electric vehicles.”
Of course the scaling up of EVs is crucial and the pace must accelerate quickly. But, as Learned told Anzilotti, a hyper-focus on electrifying transportation will grant a pass to cities, particularly those in the U.S., that have failed to create safe streets and bike lanes that actively encourage walking and biking.
Urban cycling as a “thing” for mayors and other politicians faces an uphill climb. EV’s are, after all, sexy. The same goes for solar panels, bus rapid transit, storage batteries and more.
To Learned, who started, builds and curates the #Bikes4Climate hashtag, big city mayors should start climbing.
“We need mayors to visibly ditch their traditional black Suburban transportation, on occasion, and bike commute instead. That will send the clear message that they some awareness of the safety and infrastructure challenges we city bike riders and commuters face every day” Learned told GreenSportsBlog, “It would also highlight the climate action and behavior change potential in individuals. Right now, the only mega-city mayor I know of who makes a point to be seen on a bike and talks about it as a carbon emissions reduction tool is Anne Hidalgo of Paris. Imagine if she’d hosted a whole session about the topic at GCAS? But, and especially in the United States right now, we have to identify, name and fame the leaders, small town or large city, who ARE pedaling their talk. ”
There is a smattering of urban cycling-pedestrian success stories, thanks in large part to women. Anzilotti highlighted a couple of them:
- Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau plans to double its cycling network in 2019 (she needs to move fast!), and reduce all vehicle traffic by 21 percent..
- Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat is proposing to lower speed limits, and the creation of pedestrian zones around schools.
To Learned, there’s an opportunity for policy makers in the climate action space (mayors, chief sustainability officers and more) who DO bike in their cities (for short trips and/or for their commutes) to learn from bike advocates, and to collaborate with those in the bikeshare and mobility sectors. “Leaders need to come together to see bicycles as climate action and transportation tools,” said Learned. “Seeing them as solely recreational toys is a huge mistake.”
GSB’s Take: Urban bike and pedestrian commuting needs to be a key part of any serious urban climate change-fighting plan, not the afterthought it appears to be most of the time. In fact, if people-friendly mobility isn’t already a priority in your city, then it’s time for a new mayor.
^ Leo DeTray served as captain of the 1907 University of Chicago football team
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