Vegetarian and Vegan Athletes: Going Green Even if They Don't Know It


Did you know that, on average, a vegetarian’s diet has a carbon footprint half that of a meat eater and a vegan’s average carbon footprint is even lower? Or that cow flatulence is a big contributor to atmospheric methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than CO2? It is clear that meat-as-food is a significant contributor to human-caused climate change and that reducing one’s meat consumption is a great way for an individual to make a contribution to the climate change fight. Many people are doing so, including yours truly. This got me to thinking: Which athletes, current and past, are vegetarians or vegans? Let’s take a look.

Before we start, here are some important caveats about the following list of 9 vegetarian and vegan athletes:

  • This is not an exhaustive list–there are many more vegetarian/vegan athletes, more than I expected, frankly. Think of this as a representative, succulent, sample, across a variety sports.
  • They are not necessarily forgoing meat (and perhaps dairy) as part of a personal climate change fight–only 4 of the 9 mention the environment. My assumption is that most, if not all are doing so for competitive edge (how cool is that), health and/or concern-for-animals reasons. Sad to say, some of these athletes may not even know that there are significant climate change fighting benefits to be realized from a meat free diet. With that in mind, we will write to each of the athletes listed who didn’t mention climate change, and/or their representation, to let them know the environmental benefits of their dietary choices.
  • In some cases, the athlete hasn’t specified whether he/she is a vegan or a vegetarian. We will spell it out the distinction where we can.

Now, drumroll please–here is GreenSportsBlog’s list of 9 vegetarian and/or vegan athletes (in alphabetical order)!

  • Tia Blanco, surfer. Blanco is rising to the top of the surfing world; she earned silver at the 2015 ISA Junior Women’s surfing championships. Despite many skeptics, she is living proof that one doesn’t need to eat meat to be a world class athlete. And though Blanco has not identified the climate change fight as a contributing factor to her veganism, there’s time to add that to her repertoire; the up-and-comer is only 18.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NuZUVCl5Vk&w=560&h=315]

Surfer Tia Blanco shares a day-in-her-vegan-diet-life in this video (4:46)


  • Brendan Brazier, retired ironman triathlete, current guest lecturer at Cornell on plant based diets. Brazier, a 25-year vegan, teaches a module at Cornell  entitled “The Plant-Based Diet and Elite Athleticism,” and is certainly aware of the climate change benefits of reducing and/or eliminating meat intake: He spoke at the 2015 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Chicago.
  • David Carter, NFL defensive lineman, currently a free agent. Carter played his college ball at UCLA, was drafted in 2011 by the Arizona Cardinals, has bounced around the NFL since 2012, and is an animal rights and vegan activist. According to his website, http://the300poundvegan.com, Carter was inspired by his wife two years ago to join her in a vegan diet and that positive results came quickly: “More energy, shorter recovery time, increased stamina, improved strength, and the peace of mind that no one had to die in order for me to live.”

David Carter

David Carter shares his story of improved performance through a vegan diet with students. (Photo credit: Ecorazzi)


  • Billie Jean King, 6-time Wimbledon and 5-time US Open champion, Ms. King gained most of her off-the-court notoriety for being the first prominent female athlete to come out as a lesbian. Far less well-known is her vegetarianism–she’s refrained from eating meat since her playing days 40+ years ago–and her enthusiasm for the climate change fight, helping to lead the greening effort at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home to the US Open, in Flushing Meadow, NY.
  • Andy Lally, race car driver, 5-time winner of the Rolex 24 Hour Race at Daytona, most recently in 2016. He is the 2nd vegan race car driver featured in GreenSportsBlog this month, following our profile of Leilani Münter. And like the “eco-vegan-hippie-chick with a race car,” Lally cites humanitarian reasons for his dietary choices: “I do it for ethical reasons, by this point in human evolution, we should be smart enough and kind enough to live without torturing other living beings just so we can enjoy a juicy lunch. There are plenty of plant-based options available that taste great and are excellent meat and dairy alternatives.”
  • Joe Namath, Super Bowl MVP, Icon of Cool. How awesome is this: I get to write about my absolute, all-time favorite sports hero–Broadway Joe Namath–in GreenSportsBlog! The man who led his 18-point underdog New York Jets to an epic upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III on January 12, 1969 (not that I’m keeping track or anything like that) has been a vegetarian since his playing days. And, while not as famous a statement as “we’re going to win the game, I guarantee it,” Joe Willie also said, “you don’t need meat to play football.”

Joe Namath

Joe Namath, poolside in Miami before Super Bowl III, regaling reporters with details of his vegetarian diet–and how his upstart New York Jets would dismantle the big, bad Baltimore Colts*. (Photo credit: Walter Iooss, Jr.)


  • John Salley, 4-time NBA Champion, including back-to-back titles with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons. Salley started to change his approach to eating a year after winning his second ring with the Pistons in 1990, starting with a macrobiotic diet, moving to vegetarianism and then, finally becoming a vegan in 2000. Since then Salley has become an evangelist for the vegan lifestyle and is an owner of The Vegan Vine, a sustainable winery in the Northern Central Coast of California. In December 2015, Salley made the vegan-climate change link when he encouraged FLOTUS Michelle Obama to switch to the plant-based food team, saying, “Vegan eating is not just a slam dunk for human health; it’s also the most effective way to combat climate change.”
  • Hannah Teter, Olympic Gold Medal-winning snowboarder. Teter said she became a vegetarian in 2008 after watching the documentary film, EarthlingsLike Andy Lally, Teter is motivated by her love for animals and, like David Carter, by improved performance: “Animals can’t speak for themselves, but scientifically we know that they don’t want to die…I feel stronger than I’ve ever been, mentally, physically, and emotionally.” Teter has supported Protect Our Winters, a snow sport athlete-led climate change fighting non-profit.

Hannah Teter

Hannah Teter, Olympic gold medal-winning snowboarder and vegan. (Photo credit: Cameron Spencer via Getty Images)


  • Serena and Venus Williams, tennis trail blazers, 8 gazillion Grand Slam titles between them. OK, Serena and Venus are not vegan 100% of the time. According to “Raw Vegan Powerhouses,” an October, 2015 story from Jordyn Cormier in EcoWatch, the sisters, while they “consider themselves ‘chegan’—because they occasionally indulge in cooked fish or chicken if they feel the need/want to celebrate,” the guts of their training diet vegan and raw. When Venus was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an auto-immune disease—she decided to become raw vegan to regain some control of her body and health. She began consuming a lot of veggies, green juices and raw, sprouted foods.  Not long after, Serena, her roommate as well as younger sister, joined her to make Venus’s transition easier. To date, the Williams Sisters have not made the link from vegan (or “chegan”) to the climate change fight. If GreenSportsBlog has anything to say about it, that’s gonna change.


* OK, Namath likely wasn’t talking kale and tofu–he wasn’t a vegetarian at that point.


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