Tuesday at the (Very) Interactive 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit: Climate Change Takes a Starring Role; ESPN Wins Environmental Leadership Award, But Are They Really Leading?

Executive Director Justin Zeulner promised that the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta would be “much more interactive than in past years — more workshops than panel discussions.” The Alliance made good on that promise at Tuesday’s full day session, with workshops that were more substantive and less jargon-y than in the past. Here are some of the highlights from Day 1 of the Summit.

 

THOUGHT LEADER WORKSHOP TAKES ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SPORTS

Climate change, politics, and sports — not often mixed together at the four Alliance Summits I had attended previously — were featured items on the menu at the somewhat wonkish lunch time Thought Leader workshop. Co-led with verve by Colin Tetreault, Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University and Anne Kelly, Senior Director, Policy at Ceres, the session also featured Matt Ellis, CEO and Founder of Measurabl, Ben Jarrett, North American Sustainability Leader at Kimberly-Clark, Scott Mercer, CEO of Volta Charging, and Kat West of JLL.

 

Colin Tetreault

Colin Tetreault (Photo credit: Arizona State University)

 

Audience members, yours truly included, probed the panel (and the panel probed back) about, among other things, how athletes, teams and leagues can and should talk about climate change. The issue of politics hung over that question.

Mr. Mercer questioned the premise, saying in effect that climate change is not political. There was some pushback, both from Mr. Jarrett and some audience members. Ms. West suggested that emphasizing positive environmental actions and staying out of the politics of climate change is probably the best approach. I volleyed, saying “like it or not, climate change is a political issue and we can’t be afraid of that. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball was a controversial issue and now he’s a hero. Muhammad Ali’s criticism of the Vietnam War was a controversial issue and now he’s a hero. We don’t have the time to wait for our sports-climate heroes.” That led to more respectful dialogue from a variety of perspectives.

Which was great.

Too often I’ve seen panels — at the Summit and elsewhere — where everyone agrees in a Kumbaya-ish sort of way. I think workshops like this, which featured a healthy and respectful debate, are much more valuable and informative.

On the way to the next workshop, I heard several people saying, “I could’ve stayed for another hour.” I silently seconded that emotion.

 

DOES ESPN DESERVE ITS “ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP AWARD”

ESPN won the Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award for 2018 .

In accepting the award, Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of Corporate Citizenship, showed a video that highlighted impressive environmental achievements at the ESPY Awards, the Winter X Games and the College GameDay studio shows for both football and basketball. And ESPN’s sprawling Bristol, CT headquarters campus has been greening for the better part of a decade, including on-site solar and a strong waste diversion program (62 percent in 2017).

 

Kevin Martinez - March 5, 2013

Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of corporate citizenship, accepted the Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Rich Arden/ESPN)

 

These accomplishments deserve to be commended.

Just not, it says here, with the Environmental Leadership Award.

I just don’t see leadership from from the Worldwide Leader in Sports in the environmental arena.

That’s because ESPN has not told Green-Sports stories to its massive audiences — 86 million cable subscribers, 115 million monthly espn.com visitors, 2.1 million ESPN The Magazine subscribers, etc.

There have been occasional exceptions: Outside The Linesthe 60 Minutes of ESPN, covered the effect of the polluted waters of Rio on the sailors and rowers at the 2016 Summer Olympics as well as the impact of wildfires in California and of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The producers are planning to mark the one year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey in August.

But that’s not leadership, at least not in my eyes.

The good news is that it’s not that heavy a lift to get to leadership. Taking some or all of these steps would do the trick:

  • Tell some of the many inspirational, positive, interesting Green-Sports stories out there.
  • Air a “Climate and Sports” series on SportsCenter 
  • Produce an ESPN 30 for 30 or a Nine for IX (women’s sports focused) documentary on an Eco-Athlete
  • Add an Eco-Athlete of the Year Award to the ESPY’s roster

You get the idea.

Now, you’re probably dying to ask me, “So Lew, to whom would you have given the Environmental Leadership Award?”

My vote would’ve gone to another sports media behemoth, Sky Sports of Great Britain, for its Sky Ocean Rescue initiative. According to SkySports.com, it shines a spotlight on “the issues affecting ocean health, finds innovative solutions to the ocean plastic problems and inspires people to make small everyday changes that collectively make a huge difference.” Just last week, the network named modern pentathlete Francesca Summers and para-swimmer Ellen Keane as Sky Sports Scholars for their Sky Ocean Rescue/beach cleanup work. Sky Sports also features Sky Ocean Rescue-related content on its air. And they are partners with the environmentally forward leaning Volvo Ocean Race.

 

Francesca Summers

Francesca Summers and Ellen Keane clean trash from beaches as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue program (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

ARTHUR M. BLANK WINS COMMUNITY CHAMPION AWARD

The Alliance’s first annual Community Champion Award, given to a sustainability leader in the Summit’s host city, went to Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United and builder of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mr. Blank’s commitment to going the extra mile to make sure the stadium earned LEED Platinum certification was likely well known by many in the audience. My guess is few attendees were aware of his vision to make the stadium an economic and cultural engine for the adjacent West Side neighborhood.

In decline for more than 40 years, the West Side was once home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was a nucleus of the civil rights movement. And now, thanks in part to Mr. Blank, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium team, as well as the Atlanta and Georgia governments, that historic neighborhood is starting on the long road back.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, a deserving winner of the Green Sports Alliance’s Community Champion Award (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 


 

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UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Eco-Athlete, Hopefully Will Be Gang Green’s (aka NY Jets) Next Quarterback

This year’s NFL draft is considered by many so-called experts to be a quarterback bonanza. Many mock drafts have four QBs — in alphabetical order, they are Josh Allen of Wyoming, Sam Darnold of USC, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and Josh Rosen of UCLA — being chosen in the top 10 picks of the first round. In fact, there is a solid chance that the first three picks of the draft will be quarterbacks. It says here that, if he is available when Gang Green, aka the New York Jets, my New York Jets make the third overall pick in the first round, they should select Rosen for two good reasons: 1. He’s the best pure passer in the draft and has a high football IQ, and 2. He’s an eco-athlete! 

 

EDITORS’ WARNING: THE FIRST TEN PARAGRAPHS OF THIS GSB POST GET INTO THE MINUTIAE OF THE NFL DRAFT, THE ANNUAL SELECTION OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL STARS THAT DRAWS A TELEVISION AUDIENCE OF ALMOST 10 MILLION VIEWERS, AS WELL AS THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SCARS OF NEW YORK JETS FANS. IF THIS DOES NOT APPEAL TO YOU BUT YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE ECO-ATHLETE ASPECT OF THIS STORY, PLEASE SKIP AHEAD TO THE PROMPT BELOW. THANK YOU.

The New York Jets have been in the quarterback desert for almost 50 years, the halcyon days of Joe Willie Namath and the miracle of Super Bowl III. As a Jets fan since the then, I — and my brothers and sisters in green — have suffered, quarterback-wise, through the unspeakably awful (Browning Nagle, Geno Smith), the hopeful-but-ultimately-meh (Richard Todd, Mark Sanchez), the good-ones-derailed-by-injury (Chad Pennington) and the pretty-good-but-did-they-really-bloody-pick-him-before-Dan Marino?!?! (Ken O’Brien).

 

Browning Nagle

Browning Nagle, one of many Jets quarterback busts over the past 40 years (Photo credit: Gang Green Nation)

 

That legacy of abject failure means most Jets fans approach the first round of the 2018 draft — which takes place April 26 in Dallas — with typical sports fan hope (“we’re picking third, we need a quarterback AGAIN and there are four top QB prospects. We will get one of them!”) leavened by a heaping helping of fatalism (“not all of them will be good and these idiots will pick the wrong guy!” and/or “even if they pick the right guy, he’ll get hurt!”)

And that fatalism is amped up by the fact that the Jets, originally slotted to pick sixth in the first round (the 32 NFL teams pick in inverse order of their finish the season before — the team with the worst record picks first, the team that won the Super Bowl picks 32nd), traded two their two* second round draft picks this year and their second round pick in 2019 to the Indianapolis Colts to move up to the third slot as they were fearful of missing out on the Big Four. Second round draft picks are expected to turn out to be solid-to-very good starters so that was a heavy price to pay. But if you don’t have a quarterback, you’re nowhere, so, it says here, it was a trade the Jets had to make.

And that amped up fatalism has been dialed up to DEFCON1^ status because, as good as the Class of 2018 quarterbacks appear to be — Allen has one of the most powerful arms seen in recent years, Darnold looks like the complete package, especially his ability to improvise under pressure, Mayfield is a leader and is very accurate, and Rosen is seen as the best pure passer and the most intelligent of the bunch — none are sure things. They all have flaws: Allen’s accuracy, Darnold turns the ball over too much, Mayfield is too short, and Rosen has a concussion history and is alleged to have personality issues (or, as Sam Alipour of ESPN The Magazine puts it, while “roughly half of draft-loving America feels he’s a future franchise QB, while the other half fears he’s a crap-stirring, system-disrupting locker room poison pill.”)

So, who should the Jets pick? It depends on who will be available.

With the draft two weeks away, conventional wisdom has it that the Cleveland Browns, picking first and with a three decades long need at QB, will select Darnold. As an aside, if you’re unfamiliar with the NFL draft and the first 500+ words of this post make no sense, rent the 2014 movie “Draft Day,” starring Kevin Costner. It gives you a Hollywood-i-fied version of the draft, it’s entertaining and Costner’s character runs the draft for the Cleveland Browns. Art imitating life.

The New York Giants — the “older brother” rival of the Jets — have the second pick. Eli Manning won two Super Bowls (2008, 2012) for them at QB but he’s 37. Backup Davis Webb, a third round pick last year, is untested. If these QBs are really “all that”, then the Giants will pick one. If they opt to stay with Manning and Webb, they could trade down to amass more picks, to a team more desperate for a signal-caller (Denver, Miami, Buffalo, and Arizona are all in that predicament, to one degree or another). Or, they stay put pick the best non-quarterback in the draft. I think Big Blue will pick a QB. My guess — and it’s just a guess — is that they will take Josh Allen, loving his big arm in the cold weather games of the northeast. But, for the sake of this Jets-centric post, let’s assume they take a non-QB (pass rusher Bradley Chubb would be my choice in that case), giving Gang Green the choice of the law firm of Allen, Mayfield, and Rosen.

I would pick Josh Rosen.

 

Josh Rosen Michael Owen Baker:Associated Press

Josh Rosen, working out for NFL scouts in the run up to the draft (Photo credit: Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press)

 

My biggest concern is his concussion history but I’m not worried about the personality stuff. And on the field, I like his vision, decision making and arm. He’s not as good a runner as the other three but he moves well enough to extend plays. If Darnold somehow is available when the Jets pick, I would take him. Otherwise, for me, it’s Rosen.

 

Rosen Darnold Kevin kuo USA Today

Josh Rosen (l) and Sam Darnold shake hands after Darnold’s USC Trojans defeated Rosen’s UCLA Bruins last season (Photo credit: Kevin Kuo/USA Today)

 

ECO-ATHLETE ONLY READERS, IT’S SAFE TO REJOIN US HERE.

And that was before I learned about Rosen’s eco-athleticism on Tuesday. In an in-depth interview on espn.com with Sam Alipour (it’s well worth reading), Rosen took on the personality issues that have dogged him, and showed himself to be a curious, insightful 21 year-old. And he also discussed climate change when discussing which causes he will champion as a pro:

I think it’ll evolve, but one cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.

Rosen is the first athlete I know of who made the link between climate change, the drought in Syria, and, by inference, the resulting refugee crisis. I expect this from Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman but not from a quarterback about to be a first round NFL draft pick.

It shows common sense, the ability to connect dots, and the ability to think. All important, if underrated, qualities for an NFL QB.

So, to New York Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan, the ultimate decider in the draft room, bring eco-athlete Josh Rosen to Gang Green.

Unless, of course, Sam Darnold is available. Then all bets are off.

 

* The Jets had an additional second round pick in the 2018 draft due to a prior trade with the Seattle Seahawks
^ DEFCON1 is the most severe level of readiness of the U.S. military, on a 1 to 5 scale

 


 

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