When I first sat down to write this year’s Best of Green-Sports awards column, I thought that there shouldn’t be such a column in this year of…
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, etc., etc., etc.
Yet, hope also happened.
If you care about action on climate change, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris happened.
Thankfully, COVID vaccine deployment just began to happen.
And sports did happen, which is controversial for some.
It’s been weird sometimes. A lot of the time, tell you the truth.
Cardboard likenesses of fans in the stands and piped-in crowd noise. NBA, WNBA, NHL and NWSL bubbles. Schedules made up on the fly and then revised again due to COVID. The Masters played in November.
And Green-Sports happened, mostly on Zoom, with some significant moves forward.
And so the BEST OF GREEN-SPORTS awards are happening for 2020.
BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY
Environmental/Climate Justice, Racial Justice & Sports
Prior to 2020, neither environmental justice (overcoming the disproportionate exposure of communities of color and other marginalized groups to pollution, and its harmful health and economic impacts) nor climate justice (replace “pollution” with “the effects of climate change” in the definition above) were spoken of much in Green-Sports circles, at least not in public. This is largely to true in the broader culture as well.
That should not have been the case.
After all millions of people in the United States and elsewhere have suffered/are suffering the consequences of environmental and climate injustice — from shorter lifespans to educational, career and economic underachievement to forced migration and more. Many of the victims of environmental and climate degradation are people of color and other marginalized groups. This means that racial injustice is a crucial artery into a horrible intersection with environmental and climate injustice.
The sports world, with athletes on the front lines, took on racial injustice in 2020 in high profile fashion — witness the broad-based action by WNBA and NBA players in support of the Black Lives Matter movement over the summer.
It is past time for sports to add environmental justice (“EJ”) and climate justice (“CJ”) to its social issue action plan. The tragic and outsized impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on black, brown and other marginalized communities amplifies that need.
So, why has Green-Sports been slow to get involved? My feeling is that the political nature of the environmental, climate and racial justice discussion is the main reason for the reticence.
Yet 2019 showed that maybe, just maybe, things were starting to head in the right direction. That June, the Green Sports Alliance provided a main stage slot for the first time ever at one of its summits to EJ/CJ. Alliance board member and EJ expert Kunal Merchant, who moderated “The Role of Sports in Environmental Justice Reform” panel, put EJ/CJ and racial justice at the center of that discussion.
But 2019 was a mere prelude as 2020 turned out to be the year in which the environmental/climate justice, racial justice and sports intersection catapulted into the mainstream of Green-Sports conversations. Some examples included:
- Renee Montgomery of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, who decided to opt out this season in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, spoke of the environmental justice-racial justice-COVID connection during July’s “Athlete Activism and Freedom of Expression” webinar hosted by the Centre for Sports and Human Rights.
- “Leveling The Playing Field: Sports & Climate Justice” brought this topic to an audience beyond the Green-Sports/Sports For Good ecosystem. EcoAthletes hosted the event as part of Climate Week NYC’s virtual program in September. Ex-major league baseball outfielder and founder of Players for the Planet Chris Dickerson shared how it still can be difficult for African American players to speak out on racial issues — and that this is also the case on the environment. Midge Purce of the NWSL’s Sky Blue F.C. and the U.S. Women’s National Team offered that she sees things changing for the better — at least in women’s soccer — as far as speaking out on climate is concerned and is hopeful that this will become a trend across all sports.
- During a panel discussion on “The Role of Athletes” at the inaugural Sport Positive Summit in October, Charlie Enright, a two-time skipper in the round-the-world Ocean (sailing) Race, related how he has observed firsthand the impacts of plastic ocean waste and sea level rise on poor, low-lying coastal areas.
- The Green Sports Alliance Summit doubled up on environmental justice, racial justice and athlete activism in 2020 with two insightful panels — “The Future of Sports In Environmental Justice” and “Athletes Leveraging Their Voices for Impactful Change”
So, it says here that the BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2020 is Environmental/Climate Justice, Racial Justice & Sports.
Might this award be just a tad premature, in the same vein that Barack Obama being given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 was was seen by many — including by some of his supporters — as putting the cart before the horse, since he had moved into the White House only a few months prior?
I understand the concern. After all, we’re talking about talking about EJ/CJ. There hasn’t been real action — at least as far as I know — from the sports world yet.
2021 certainly needs to be a year of EJ action in sports.
But before action must come awareness and interest.
And in 2020, awareness of and interest in environmental justice started to build in the sports world.
Tomorrow, we will share the thoughts of some of the people who are moving the environmental justice/racial justice conversation forward in the Green-Sports world.
2019: Women: Engines of Green-Sports
2018: Leilani Münter
2015: Pac-12 Conference
2014: Forest Green Rovers
GREENEST NEW VENUE
Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle Kraken (NHL) and Seattle Storm (WNBA)
I suppose there can be a quibble with this award since Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena is not new construction. The 58 year-old building, formerly known as KeyArena, is being renovated with a myriad of green elements, including.
Saving the historic roof reduces embodied energy use typical of new construction.
The conversion of all facility mechanical systems, gas combustion engines, heating, dehumidification, and cooking to electric power.
Installation of solar panels, which will the arena power itself by 100 percent renewable energy.
An integrated transportation plan that features subsidized public transportation, electric vehicle charging stations, and investment in the Seattle Center Monorail.
These are all admirable features but the main reason GSB gave the arena the GREENEST NEW VENUE award for 2020 is its name.
Amazon announced in June that it had purchased the naming rights to the home of the Seattle Kraken, the NHL expansion franchise that will begin play in the 2021-22 season, and the 2020 WNBA Champion Storm. But instead of naming it Amazon Arena, the company had other ideas.
Per Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, “instead of naming it after Amazon, we’re calling it Climate Pledge Arena as a regular reminder of the importance of fighting climate change.”
Once the renovated arena reopens, every time the Kraken hits the ice or the Storm takes the court, millions of fans will hear broadcasters and PA announcers intone, “Live, from Climate Pledge Arena!” And that doesn’t take into account the passersby who see the Climate Pledge Arena marquee.
The naming of the home of the Kraken and Storm as Climate Pledge Arena has the potential to be one of the rare marquee moments in the two decade history of the Green-Sports movement.
2019: Chase Center, Golden State Warriors
2018: Audi Field, D.C. United
2017: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United
2016: Golden1 Center, Sacramento Kings
2015: CHS Field, St. Paul (MN) Saints
2014: Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers
BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD
While all of the 2020 champions of the North American sports leagues — Kansas City Chiefs/Super Bowl, Tampa Bay Lightning/Stanley Cup, Los Angeles Lakers/NBA, Houston Dash/NWSL, Seattle Storm/WNBA, Los Angeles Dodgers/MLB and, just this weekend, the Columbus Crew/MLS — have some green initiatives in place, none are of the groundbreaking, championship variety.
And since GSB is only about awarding excellence, we are tabling the BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD award until 2021.
2019: Seattle Sounders
2018: Tie: Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta United
2017: Golden State Warriors
2016: Cleveland Indians
2015: New England Patriots
2014: Ohio State University
BEST COVID-RELATED LESSON (FOR A CARBON CONSTRAINED WORLD)
Major League Baseball and its Geographically-Friendly Divisions in 2020
COVID-19 has imposed its will on sports, just like it has on virtually every other aspect of life. And the people who manage the varied corners of the sports industry — from venue operators to mega-event planners to media execs and more — are trying to learn from the pandemic, anticipating what the post-COVID sports world should and will look like.
But are the decision makers in virtual corner offices applying COVID-related lessons to a potential carbon-constrained world that could be upon in a decade or so?
That’s why GSB is offering — for 2020 only (we hope) — the BEST COVID-RELATED LESSON (FOR A CARBON CONSTRAINED WORLD) award.
It goes to Major League Baseball and its Geographically-Friendly Divisions in 2020.
Not known for its flexibility, MLB bent to COVID’s will by creating a schedule that tried to make life as easy as possible for its players and staff in a truncated 60 game 2020 season.
Forty (40) of the games were played against division opponents. The remaining 20 contests were against teams in same division of the other league (i.e. American League Central vs. National League Central). So that meant the Los Angeles Dodgers of the NL West had lots of short road trips to play the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland A’s of the AL West but did not fly cross-country to play the Boston Red Sox or the Baltimore Orioles.
By creating such a geographically friendly schedule, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the players union — albeit unintentionally — provided a template for what sports will look like in a carbon constrained world. Travel-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on a per-game basis were cut significantly.
Imagine its 2030 and:
- Humanity has not come close to decarbonizing by the “45 percent-by-2030” rate that the UN IPCC¹ said in 2018 was necessary to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.
- We are beset by many more frequent, damaging and costly extreme weather events than we are experiencing now.
- More than 90 percent of the public understands and accepts that human-caused climate change is the reason. That’s an aggressive number, I know. But, to channel the late Mets and Phillies relief pitcher Tug McGraw, “Ya Gotta Believe!”²
In that kind of world — a world that sadly is entirely within the realm of possibility — it is easy to envision baseball going back to its 2020 geographically-friendly approach. Other sports will need to follow suit.
Reducing air travel miles significantly will have several benefits for the teams beyond lower carbon emissions:
- Improved bottom lines
- Enhanced brand image
- Reduced jet lag
Fans will, of course, miss juicy cross-country matchups. But hopefully many of those 2030 sports fans will remember the empty stadiums and arenas of 2020 and say, “I can live with that.”
¹ IPCC = the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
² The 1973 Mets were in last place in the National League East in mid-July, 12 games out of first place. Tug McGraw started saying the “Ya Gotta Believe” mantra in the team’s clubhouse. As the Mets started to play well almost immediately and continued on a 10-week hot streak, culminating with a miraculous, worst-to-first comeback. After winning the NL East, the Mets won the NL Championship series over the Cincinnati Reds before falling to the Oakland A’s in the World Series in seven games.