Mascots of NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Teams are Threatened By Climate Change: Report

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that Villanova won its second men’s NCAA basketball championship in three years on Monday, taking out the University of Michigan 79-62. According to a report by the National Wildlife Foundation, highlighted in a recent story in Yale Climate Connections, the Wildcats of Villanova and Michigan’s Wolverines are just two of a number of college sports’ iconic mascots to be under threat from the effects of climate change.

 

Mascots are integral to the color and pageantry that is college sports.

While some mascots take human form (like the Scarlet Knights of my alma mater, Rutgers), some are colors (like the Violets of NYU, where I went to grad school), and some are quirky (what, exactly is an Eph, the mascot of Williams College# in the Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts?), many are animals and many of those animal mascots are facing climate change-related threats to their existence.

Samantha Harrington delved into that topic in “These March Madness Mascots are in Danger from Climate Change,” which ran in the March 13 issue of Yale Climate Connectionsthe newsletter of the terrific Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Harrington quoted Tara Losoff of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), which issued a Mascot Madness report, as saying that “Many of the animals that inspired [college] team names, these mascots, are at risk of being impacted by climate change.”

While Villanova’s Wildcats were dominant during this year’s run to the NCAA championship — they won all six of their games by 12 points or more — the report points out that wildcats are enduring existential challenges due to climate change:

“North America is home to wildcats like the Canada lynx, ocelot, and Florida panther (the mascot of Pitt, Northern Iowa and Florida International — not to mention the NHL’s team in South Florida)…Climate change is causing a decrease in lynx and could lead to disappearance from the lower 48 states in the next 50 years. The lynx depends on deep snow cover and as the climate warms, it could be unable to field a full roster. As sea levels continue to rise, the Florida panther may be run out of bounds. Just three feet of sea level rise, expected by the end of the century, would flood 30 percent of panther habitat. Droughts driven by climate change are already threatening the reproductive health of ocelots and sea level rise is expected to wipe out some of [their] coastal habitat.”

 

Villanova Wildcat

Villanova’s wildcat. According to a National Wildlife Foundation report, wildcats are one of many mascot species under threat from the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Mark Konezny, USA TODAY sports)

 

On the court in San Antonio Monday night, Michigan’s Wolverines did not fare well against Villanova’s relentless rebounding, championship level defense, and the three point shooting of Final Four Most Outstanding Player Donte DiVincenzo. In the wild, per the NWF report, the wolverine is having a much tougher time:

“The cold-weather wolverine is rapidly vanishing from continental America as climate change continues to warm the planet. The deep snowpack, so essential for denning and raising their young, is harder and harder to find. The wolverine population in the lower 48 states is struggling to hold on and now numbers only 250 to 300. Unless we act soon, climate change could turn this losing battle into a blowout. The rapidly disappearing wolverine may soon be declared a threatened species as the climate warms even more.”

 

 

Wolverine Daniel J. Cox

A wolverine in the Bridger Mountains north of Bozeman, MT (Photo credit: Daniel J. Cox, naturalexposures.com)

 

Other mascot species under threat from climate change go beyond the Wizard of Oz trio of Lions (Columbia, Loyola Marymount), Tigers (Clemson, LSU, Memphis, Missouri) and Bears (Baylor, Cal-Berkeley) to include Bison/Buffaloes (Bucknell, Colorado, North Dakota State), Rams (Colorado State, Fordham, VCU), Ducks (Oregon), Falcons (Air Force Academy, Bowling Green) and Turtles (Maryland Terrapins).

 

clemson tiger

The Clemson Tiger (Photo credit: Dawson Powers)

 

The NWF report makes clear that the harmful effects of climate change go beyond animal mascots to include crops like Buckeyes (Ohio State), Corn (Nebraska Cornhuskers), and Oranges (Syracuse Orangemen). These impacts include more intense bouts of extreme weather like Cyclones (Iowa State), Hurricanes (Miami) and Storms (St. John’s Red Storm).

Losoff told Harrington that making a connection between mascots and climate change can help get people thinking and talking about global warming: “Talking about a beloved animal mascot being impacted by climate change could be a way to engage friends and family members who might not otherwise be interested or engaged in talking about climate.”

I agree and would go even further.

It seems to me that the “Mascots Being Threatened by Climate Change” story angle provides a big marketing opportunity — and a chance to do some real good — to two key players in the college sports ecosystem: Colleges and university athletics departments and the corporations that sponsor and/or advertise on them. Especially those corporations and brands that promote their greenness.

Think about it.

Some companies and brands embracing (the very neutral-sounding) sustainability still don’t want to deal with climate change — seen by many as too controversial and political — head on in their marketing messages.

This is a faulty strategy, in my humble opinion. Corporations, as well as sports teams — pro and college alike — are falling all over themselves to figure out how to appeal to millennials and Generation Z. These cohorts, far more than their predecessors, see climate change not as an if, but rather as a what are we going to do about it question.

Gun violence is a much more immediate, high profile issue than climate change, but the reaction of many Generation Zers and millennials since the Parkland High School tragedy is instructive. It shows that a significant cadre of these young people seem to run towards controversies and politics. Brands, it says here, will start to take note. Which means that the climate is likely safer than it’s ever been for corporations/brands — including college sports advertisers like General Motors and Nike — to promote their climate change fighting efforts, like generating renewable energy at and/or purchasing renewable energy for their factories.

But if companies — concerned about being called out by climate change skeptics and deniers on the one hand or for greenwashing, for not being perfect on the other — are still not ready to make the jump into the climate change waters, the NWF report provides the perfect way to wade in.

You see, almost everyone loves animals and animal conservation. And almost every college sports fan loves their team’s mascot. Corporations/brands and their college sports partners can wrap themselves in mascot preservation as a way to engage on climate change.

Watch this space.

 

# The Williams College Ephs (pronounced “Eephs”) are named for the school’s founder, Ephraim Williams

 

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Green Sports Alliance Calls on Sports Fans To Take “Live Green or Die™” Challenge in Response to Trump Pulling U.S Out of Paris Climate Agreement

FIRST OF A TWO-PART, GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE-FOCUSED STORY: The Green Sports Alliance (Alliance) offered an action-oriented statement as a response to the decision by President Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Partnering with basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton, the GSA is using this “Post-Paris Exit” (#Prexit) moment to launch a new initiative, the “Live Green or Die™” challenge and to welcome individuals to join its ranks.

 

 

President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that he plans to pull the U.S out of the Paris Climate Agreement has, according to Justin Zeulner, executive director for the Green Sports Alliance, strengthened the Alliance’s resolve to do what it can to accelerate the pace of the greening of sports.

“In the current climate, we’ve gone from a state of concern to a state of emergency. Climate change threatens the sports industry’s very existence. It has never been more urgent for the industry to take action – and it’s doing just that,” said Zeulner. “Across the board, from owners to athletes, sports organizations are focusing their attention and resources on greening their sports. That singular focus is essential to winning in sports – and in the battle against climate change. The stakes are too high to risk inaction. Losing is not an option.”

The Alliance invited eco-athletes, team owners, and stadium designers to share their feelings on #Prexit and the way forward in the statement.

 

Bill Walton and the Alliance Partner to Involve Fans Now with LIVE GREEN OR DIE

The Alliance sees increasing fan involvement in the Green-Sports movement as an immediate and important next step. With that in mind, they are opening Alliance membership, heretofore the preserve of teams, venues, leagues and business, to individual fans. And they’re partnering with basketball Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton to do it.

 

Walton 2

Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton (Photo credit: USA Today)

 

Walton and the Alliance are urging fans to take the LIVE GREEN OR DIE™ challenge. Click here to take a pledge, commit to greater sustainability, and join the Alliance in leading the sports greening movement.

“We have the moral obligation, duty, and responsibility to do everything we can to remedy what’s happening – environmental cancers, poisoned water, and unbreathable air – all due to climate change, which is a self-inflicted tragedy,” intoned Walton as he pressed fans to take the challenge. “Get on the Green Sports Alliance express. This is not something that will happen by itself. Our success, our future, our lives depend on each of us taking positive and concentrated steps forward based on knowledge, science, and technology.”

 

Other eco-athletes are speaking out on Trump, Paris and Moving Forward

It’s not only Bill Walton.

The Alliance’s statement included the takes of several leading eco-athletes, some of whom may be familiar to GreenSportsBlog readers.

 

Andrew Ference

“It is incredibly disappointing to see the global efforts to combat climate change being politicized in the United States,” said former National Hockey League player Andrew Ference. “People and businesses from across the country don’t see this as a left or right issue, rather an issue which means going forward or backward. The world is stronger when America moves forward.”

Ference created the NHL Players Association Carbon Neutral Challenge in 2007, the first major environmental initiative in professional hockey. He encouraged more than 500 players to go carbon neutral, establishing him as a leader in the green sports movement. Ference holds a certificate in Corporate Sustainability and Innovation from Harvard Extension School, and is the most recent recipient of the Green Sports Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award.

 

Ference

Andrew Ference, after winning the 2016 Green Sports Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

Mary V. Harvey

Olympic Gold medalist (soccer, Atlanta ’96) Mary V. Harvey called Prexit “extremely disappointing” but sees it as “a rallying cry for all of us to step up our game. And we will. Climate change is real, and we all have a responsibility to advocate for protecting our environment.”

During the FIFA reform process, Harvey helped organize a global campaign calling for gender equity as a core tenet. Over 12 weeks, #WomeninFIFA reached more than 10 million people. Recently Harvey became the first woman to receive the Werner Fricker Builder Award from US Soccer for her long-term advocacy of the sport.

 

 

Harvey

Mary V. Harvey, the first woman to receive the Werner Fricker Builder Award from US Soccer for her long-term advocacy of the sport (Photo credit: Mary V. Harvey)

 

Will Witherspoon

According to a recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication, not only do 86 percent of Democrats want to remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, but so do 51 percent of Republicans. Will Witherspoon, who spent 12 years as a linebacker for the St. Louis Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans, reflected this reality when he said, “The voices of the few should not outweigh the voices of the many. The work we do together is critical – now more than ever.” Witherspoon manages his Shire Gate Farm, a 500-acre, grass-fed cattle farm in Missouri, renowned for its use of sustainable farming techniques and certified by Animal Welfare Approved.

 

Witherspoon Jeremy M. Lange

Will Witherspoon at Shire Gate Farm in Missouri (Photo credit: Jeremy M. Lange)

 

Sacramento Kings Owner Speaks Out

Sacramento Kings owner and chairman Vivek Ranadivé sees sports as an important, positive counter-force to #Prexit.

“It is tremendously disheartening to see the recent step back from climate change leadership,” said Ranadivé. “However, through sport as a platform for good, we’re witnessing tremendous strides and new records in how businesses operate, how fans mitigate their impact on the planet, and how together, communities are working to preserve our environment for generations to come.”

 

Builders of sports venues are sticking with Paris

HOK, is, arguably, the world’s leading stadium and arena design, architecture, engineering, and planning firm. They are behind several of the most sustainable sports structures in North America, including Met Life Stadium, home of the Jets and Giants, Rogers Place in Edmonton (Oilers), and Nationals Park in Washington.

“We are encouraged by the number of current sports projects that are pursuing ambitious sustainable design goals,” said Chris DeVolder, HOK’s senior vice president and managing principal. “We stand by our commitment to AIA^ 2030, which targets carbon neutrality for all new buildings, developments, and major renovations by 2030, [as well as] the companies, organizations, and US cities, counties, and states that continue to honor the Paris Agreement. As a global firm, we can do no less.”

TOMORROW, PART TWO: A PREVIEW OF THE SEVENTH GREEN SPORTS ALLIANCE SUMMIT

 

^ AIA = American Institute of Architects

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