The GSB (Mock) Interview: Drew Brees; Standing Tall on Climate Change

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s record for the most career passing yards in NFL history at a raucous Mercedes-Benz Superdome a week ago Monday. The next day, about 300 miles to the east of the Crescent City, Hurricane Michael plowed into Panama City, Florida. 

Brees, who played a crucial role as a high profile ambassador supporting the recovery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit, had to be affected by the devastation wrought by this latest mega-storm. With that in mind, GreenSportsBlog spoke with Brees to see if he has made the connection between the Katrinas and Michaels — as well as the Harveys, Irmas and Marias of the world and climate change.

OK, we didn’t really talk to Brees — he was too busy preparing for Sunday’s game with the Baltimore Ravens.

So we’re doing the next best thing: Imagining a conversation with Brees about Katrina, Michael and climate change.

To be clear, Brees has not spoken out about climate change, at least as far as I can tell. I have no idea what he thinks on the issue. 

And even though he publicly stated that NFL players should stand for the national anthem, thus aligning himself with President Trump, a climate change denier/skeptic, that does not mean Brees is a denier/skeptic. In fact, he seems to be a thoughtful fellow, one who relies heavily on data to do his job. So, this faux interview posits that he would follow the scientific data on climate change.

This is our second imagined conversation about climate change with a mega sports star. LeBron James was the first back in 2013.

GreenSportsBlog believes that finding über athletes who are willing to engage with their fans on climate change is absolutely crucial to scaling the impact of the Green-Sports movement. That’s why we’re kinda-sorta talking to Brees, a beloved figure in Louisiana and throughout the football world.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Drew, congratulations on breaking the NFL career passing yards record held by a great son of New Orleans, Peyton Manning. In fact, Peyton sent this short congratulatory video to you.

 

 

Drew Brees: Uh, thanks, Peyton…I guess. And thank you, Lew. This is truly a team honor. Or teams. Going back to the 2006 group, my first year with the Saints, when the squad came back to New Orleans after being nomads in 2005, post-Hurricane Katrina…

 

Drew Brees

Drew Brees talks to Lisa Salters of ESPN after breaking the NFL’s career passing yards record (Photo credit: ESPN)

 

GSB: …That’s right, Katrina hit New Orleans in August, 2005, two weeks before the start of the season. So the Saints played their home games in places like Baton Rouge and San Antonio.

Drew: That’s right. The city was severely damaged — on its knees, really — and, coming in as a free agent, I was seen as damaged goods because the then-San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers released me and my surgically repaired right shoulder…

GSB: …And you were seen as too short at 6′ 0″ coming out of Purdue.

Drew: But I got very lucky — the Saints and coach Sean Payton took a chance on me and in 2006, just as the team was ready to return to a rebuilt Superdome. It’s been magical since our first game back in New Orleans, on that Monday night vs. the Atlanta Falcons.

 

 

GSB: You ain’t kidding. The 2005 Saints were 3-13 and there were rumors that the team was going to permanently leave a Katrina-battered New Orleans for San Antonio or elsewhere. But with you at the helm, and kind of taking the team and New Orleans on your back, the Saints had the most successful season in its 40 year existence, going 10-6 and reaching the NFC Championship Game.

Drew: It was incredible, so, when you think of it, the career passing yards record is really born of the spirit of New Orleans post-Katrina. And you’re kind to say I carried the city and the team. It was as much the other way around — the city lifted me. The 2006 team lifted me — guys like Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, the late, great Will Smith, and Steve Gleason, my buddy who blocked that punt vs. the Falcons in our first game back to the Dome and now courageously battling ALS.

GSB: Gleason is indeed a profile in courage. And then, in February 2010 in Super Bowl XLIV, you led the Saints to their first — and to date, only — championship, defeating the aforementioned Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts.

Drew: I know I use this word a lot but it was INCREDIBLE!

GSB: As a Jets fan I hope I get one taste of “incredible” one of these years. But I digress. Let’s talk about Katrina. You arrived in New Orleans a year after the storm and almost immediately got involved in rebuilding efforts.

Drew: My wife Brittany and I chose to come here in large part because we thought we could do something special here. When we arrived in the spring of 2006, it was like a ghost town. There still were boats in the middle of roads, and cars still upside down in people’s living rooms. What was amazing was that we leaned on each other. People were trying to rebuild their homes, rebuild their lives, yet they were still coming to the Dome to cheer on the Saints because it gave them so much energy and enthusiasm…just this feeling that we’re all in this together.

GSB: Well, you put your money where your mouth is. In 2007, your Brees Dream Foundation entered into a partnership with Operation Kids to rebuild city schools, parks, playgrounds, and athletic centers. It also funded after school and mentoring programs.

Drew: It was the least I could do.

 

Drew Brees Siding

Drew Brees installs a piece of siding at a home under construction at the Habitat for Humanity Musicians Village in the 9th Ward in May, 2007, 21 months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

 

GSB: Thankfully, from a New Orleans perspective, there hasn’t been another Katrina. But these once in a hundred year hurricanes are happening with much more frequency than that. Just last year, in a very short period of time, Harvey hit the Houston area, Irma blasted South Florida and Maria obliterated the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. And of course last month, Florence devastated the Carolinas and, the day after you broke the record, Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle as a Category IV storm.

Drew: I know. I raffled off one of the game balls from the record-setter with all of the proceeds going to Michael relief. J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans of course did incredible work in that area post-Harvey last year. You still feel kind of helpless, because there’s really nothing you can do to stop it.

 

JJ Watt Houston Business

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans (c) with a $5,000,000 check from his Foundation, raised by donations from thousands of fans post 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. The funds went to Harvey-related relief efforts (Photo credit: Houston Business Journal)

 

GSB: Is that really true? In the short term, governments can build stronger levees, create manmade barrier islands to keep some storm water out of cities, make sure that future urban development takes the environment into account, and more.

Drew: I guess. But those things cost a lot of money.

GSB: Yes, but these storms are costing billions, and that’s not including the human costs. There is a strong case to be made that the investments in levees and the like make financial sense in light of the costs. Just ask the folks in the Netherlands, where those types of investments were made decades ago, and they have largely been successful.

Drew: If what you say is backed up by real data and the benefits of those types investments outweigh the costs then we are foolish not to investigate and make them.

GSB: The data is there in terms of investments to help areas adapt to a changing environment. But these are band-aids, really. The bigger problem is the increased frequency of severe hurricanes. Do you think human-caused climate change is having an impact?

Drew: Well, I’m going to start by saying I’m not a scientist BUT don’t worry, Lew, I’m not going to use that as a dodge.

GSB: Thank YOU!!

Drew: No problem. Because even though I am a man of deep faith I also am a man who appreciates science and data — the two can definitely co-exist in my mind. So when I read that 97 percent of climate scientists say climate change is real and human caused, that gets my attention. If our analytics department told me that the Baltimore Ravens defense, our opponent this Sunday, is going to blitz 97 percent of the time when we lined up a certain way, you bet we will call a play to counteract that blitz. Or if 97 percent of doctors studying the brains of deceased NFL players say that brain trauma from football caused the players to suffer from CTE

GSB: …Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma…

Drew …I would believe that there’s a strong link between football and CTE. That’s why, while I love football and think it’s the greatest game in the world, I think kids should not play tackle football until they’re of high school age so their brains and bodies are more developed. Play flag football until then. But I digress. The data and the science are clear: Climate change is real and it’s human caused and it’s having a disastrous effect now on my city and on coastal cities all over the United States and elsewhere.

GSB: So what should we do about it?

Drew: Great question. I have to admit I need to study the potential remedies. I’m a small government conservative kind of guy but, as with the idea of building levees, if public investment can yield a positive return on climate, I’d be open to it.

GSB: How about a market-based, revenue neutral price on carbon that is being advocated by a group called the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), led by Republican elder statesmen like James Baker and George Shultz? Or a similar plan as proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a group with which I volunteer. The gist of both is that a fee would be placed on carbon-based fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) at the mine, well, or border. The money raised from that fee would be returned to U.S. households in the form of a monthly dividend rather than going to the Treasury. Higher prices on gas and other products due to the fee would encourage citizens to find and demand lower carbon options and accelerate the growth of the clean economy.

Drew: Now that’s a playbook I’d like to dive into. After the season, of course.

GSB: I’ll be happy to send you some info. I’ll wait until after February 3, the date of Super Bowl LIII at the LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. One more question: Do you guys ever talk about climate change in the locker room? Say after Harvey or Maria hit?

Drew: Maybe a couple of guys mention it here or there but it really didn’t bubble up after those storms. We of course talk about the national anthem — I believe that everyone should stand despite the fact that I also believe that African Americans are often unfairly treated by police — and we talk about healthcare, both for NFL players and everyone else, and other issues. But climate change? Not that much.

GSB: What do you think would change that?

Drew: Truth is, I don’t have a real answer. I hate to say it but it may take a few more Katrinas.

 


 

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If the Most Important Green Aspects of Super Bowl LII are Two Beer TV Ads, Is That a Good Thing?

Super Bowl LII will be played in Minnesota, one of the most environmentally-conscious states in the country. Host city Minneapolis is mass-transit friendly and filled with LEED certified stadia and arenas. The Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots will do battle in LEED Gold US Bank Stadium. The game will be zero-waste and 100 percent of the energy used to power the contest will be offset. Yet, it says here that the most important green aspect of the 2018 Super Bowl may well be two beer ads — unless the NFL steps up to tell the Big Game’s green story to the audience 100+ million people.

 

Question: What does this triumvirate — Clydesdale horses, the Bud Bowl, and recent catastrophic extreme weather events — have in common?

Answer: They are each themes of Budweiser Super Bowl ads, past and immediate future. If there was a Super Bowl Advertising Hall of Fame, the brand’s ads featuring the iconic, white maned horses and the fun, computer-generated football games played by teams of beer bottles (Bud vs. Bud Light!) would both certainly be first ballot inductees.

But corporate parent AB InBev’s stablemates Budweiser and Stella Artois are going in a different direction for Sunday’s broadcast on NBC.

In “Budweiser’s Super Bowl Beer Ad Isn’t about Beer,” which ran in the January 26 issue of Environmental Leader, Jennifer Hermes reported that the brand’s 60 second Super Bowl spot is actually about…water: “[US corporate parent] Anheuser-Busch currently produces canned drinking water at its Cartersville, GA, brewery, and ships them to communities in need. This year, the company shipped nearly three million cans of emergency drinking water to areas hit by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and by the California wildfires. In total, the company says it has provided over 79 million cans of drinking water to communities in need. The Super Bowl ad tells the story of its employees in the Cartersville plant who produce the emergency drinking water. [It] features the general manager of the brewery, along with more than 20 of his local colleagues.”

 

Budweiser’s “Stand By You” water-themed Super Bowl ad (60 seconds)

 

Stella Artois’ 30 second ad, produced in partnership with water.org, features actor Patriots fan Matt Damon, who calls on beer lovers to step up to help solve the water crisis by buying a Stella beer chalice. Damon asserts that if just one percent of Super Bowl viewers purchase the glass, Stella will provide “clean water to one million people. For five years.”

 

Matt Damon stars in Stella Artois’ 30 second, water conservation-themed, Super Bowl ad

 

Why did Budweiser and Stella take this turn?

 

IT COMES DOWN TO WATER — AND EYEBALLS

Quality water is, of course, crucial to the beer brewing process. AB InBev and its U.S. subsidiary Anheuser-Busch has implemented a robust water stewardship and environmental protection program across its sprawling brewery roster.

The initiative has engaged employees, farmers, suppliers and strategic partners to devise and implement a wide range of water conservation and management measures. Anheuser-Busch says this approach helped it reduce water use across all of its U.S. breweries by nearly 50 percent over the last 10 years.

That is a BIG achievement which warrants the BIG ad spend — NBC Sports is charging $5 million dollars for a 30 second spot — on the BIG game to reach the BIGGEST television audience of the year — 111 million people watched the 2017 Super Bowl.

Reaching such a vast audience with environmentally-themed messaging is why I believe Bud and Stella Artois have co-authored the most important green story surrounding Super Bowl LII.

Oh, you might say, “I think the fact that the the NFL, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, and US Bank Stadium are teaming up to offset 100 percent of the game’s carbon footprint via the purchase of renewable energy credits is more consequential than a couple of ads.” Or, you might opine that “Rush2Recycle, the program sponsored by PepsiCo, and promoted by ex-NFL great Hines Ward, that will help Sunday’s game be the first zero-waste^ Super Bowl, has to be considered the most important green story.”

 

us bank stadium

Exterior of US Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: SI.com)

 

While those efforts are, of course, laudable, I still go with Bud and Stella.

Because the  audience of 100 million+ people who might see the Bud and/or Stella Artois water-themed ads on NBC will likely be between 50 to 100 times greater than the number of people who learn about the zero-waste and/or the offset aspects of Super Bowl LII. That audience includes the 66,000+ fans inside US Bank Stadium, along with readers of national media outlets like Fast Company magazine, which are giving the zero-waste Super Bowl story welcome coverage.

Now, the NFL can easily wrest the “most important green story of Super Bowl LII” title away from Bud and Stella. All it needs to do is to create a public service announcement touting the green aspects of Super Bowl LII — hey, as of this writing, there are three days left; plenty of time for great content to be produced — and air it on NBC during the game.

What a BIG deal that would be! But will the NFL step up?

The stakes, said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and a founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), are much higher than even the Super Bowl itself.

“As one of the most visible sporting events in the world, the Super Bowl has a unique opportunity to promote environmental literacy and reduce cultural polarization related to climate change,” said Dr. Allen Hershkowitz. “US Bank Stadium’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy credits, ambitious zero-waste goals, and the [Minneapolis] region’s intelligent mass transit infrastructure, positions this event to be among the most carbon intelligent Super Bowls ever. The question before us is this: Will the NFL meaningfully promote this aspect of the Super Bowl story? Given the bewildering retreat from essential, science-based climate policy being enacted by the worst environmental administration in our nation’s history, a counter message by the NFL promoting progress on climate could not be more important. It has a responsibility to the world to do so.”

 

ENVIRONMENTAL MESSAGING: A WINNER FOR THE NFL

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, talks a good environmental game: “The NFL is a responsible steward of the environment in all areas of our business. Through [these zero-waste and offset projects], the League and its partners hope to set a new standard of environmental sustainability at the Super Bowl.”

But Goodell’s green talk mainly takes place in dry, easily ignorable press releases, not on Super Bowl broadcasts.

The Commish and league should go beyond press releases and talk the green talk to the widest possible audience — i.e. during the Super Bowl. Because doing so would likely be good for business.

Say what?

Hasn’t has been a tough season for the NFL: from anthem protests to “Fire the Sons of B**ches!;” from CTE to declining TV ratings#? Won’t many older fans get ticked off? Isn’t it better for a league whose ownership and fan base is seen as right-of-center to keep quiet about the environment and climate?

No, it is not.

And, again, I say this from a business building, not from the “it’s the right thing to do” point-of-view.

It is a 2016 conversation with an NFL marketing executive who preferred to remain anonymous that sticks with me. He said the one thing that kept him and his colleagues up at night the most was how to attract Millennial and Generation Z fans and keep them.

One thing that resonates with younger cohorts is the environment and climate: across the political spectrum, the 35-and-under set accepts the reality and seriousness of climate change at rates far greater than their older counterparts.

Will embracing climate and the environment be the main catalyst to turning the tide the NFL’s young fan problems? Of course not. This is a complex, multi-factorial problem and going BIG on the environment is, admittedly, not close to the most important potential solution.

But, it says here that an intelligent, clever environmentally-themed PSA will be well-received among Millennials and Gen Zers. Which would help.

Budweiser and Stella Artois, hardly fringe, left wing brands, believe leading with the environment is the right way to go. Will the NFL join them by airing a green PSA on Sunday? I wouldn’t bet* on it.

In the meantime, buy a Stella chalice and (responsibly) enjoy a Stella or a Bud in it on Super Sunday.

 

 

^ A sports event can claim “Zero-Waste” status by diverting 90 percent or more of its game day waste from landfill, most often by a combination of recycling and composting.
* I also am not betting on the game itself. My prediction? Patriots 24, Eagles 17. I hope I am wrong.
# NFL TV ratings have declined over the past three years but it still generates, by far, the biggest television audience — and not only in terms of sports programming.

 


 

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