How much do sports fans care about the environment and climate change? What do they want athletes and teams to do about it, if anything? What kind of impact are the fan engagement programs put forth by an increasing number of teams and sports events having?
We don’t really know since there hasn’t been any macro Green-Sports, fan-focused research studies conducted since the Green Sports Alliance funded one in 2014.
That needs to change.
In the meantime, GSB will work to do the next best thing through an occasional series, Voice of the Fan. Our approach will be to interview fans, individually and in groups, to get a sense of their attitudes about the various aspects of the intersection of Green & Sports.
Today, we kick off the series by talking to Sheila Michalsen, an environmentally-minded Mets fan and her effort to get her favorite team to sign on to the U.N.’s Sport for Climate Action framework.
After talking with Sheila Michalsen for, oh, 30 seconds, I could see why she has become a unique trail blazer of sorts, as a Green-Sports-minded fan-activist, urging the front office of her New York Mets to step up on the environment.
That’s because the Hamden, Connecticut resident became a unicorn many years when she became likely the only person in the entirety of human history to switch their loyalties from the Red Sox to the Yankees to the Mets.
As a lifelong Yankees fan, switching one’s loyalties to root for one of the hated rivals is unthinkable. To somehow hopscotch to all three is unfathomable.
So, how did that happen?
“You see, I’m a fan of the game,” related Michalsen. “I started out rooting for the Red Sox, until they lost the 1986 World Series to the Mets in heartbreaking fashion. I just couldn’t take the emotional free-fall of losing so much so suddenly. I was done! So, I took a couple years off from baseball, until I was lured back in by the mid-90s Yankees. I needed wins and those Yankees really delivered! I particularly loved catcher Jorge Posada and pitcher Andy Pettitte. It was a lot of fun. But then came the shock, for me, of widespread steroid use, and a general feeling of corporate pressure to win. Together, they sucked the fun out of the game for me.”
But this turned out to be a second trial separation from baseball, rather than a full fledged divorce. More Michalsen:
“Meanwhile, over in Queens, I found a very different team! They were a bunch of guys who had some good days — sometimes great ones — and some bad days, but who seemed to love playing the game. I could relate to that. I also loved their radio announcers Howie Rose and now Wayne Randazzo, as I mainly follow the game on the radio. So I fell back in love with baseball, this time with the Mets!”
Yes, Michalsen has clearly earned her unicorn status as a Red Sox-Yankees-Mets fan.
But what about as a Green-Sports fan activist? How did Michalsen make that happen?
“Well, I’ve been an environmentalist and nature lover for at least 40 years,” Michalsen shared. “My husband and I live next to a family farm with a spectacular view. Thinking back, I realized that, during my Red Sox years, we chose to let about half our yard grow back into woods and started composting. Then during my Yankees years, we set a system of rain barrels to supplement our well water. Now, during my Mets years, I converted most of our remaining lawn into lovely meadows.”
And, since I’ve read everything I can about climate change, I know it is a real, growing and serious threat. And so, I decided to reach beyond my home environment to become an activist.”
So, Michalsen began writing letters. Lots of them, including some to the nearby Yale Program on Climate Change Communications. And that led her to baseball and her beloved (for now, at least) Mets.
“The great folks at Yale told me about Sport for Climate Action framework in which sports teams pledged to operate in accordance to the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement,” recalled Michalsen. “I saw that the Yankees had signed on to the framework, which was great, but that the Mets had not yet done so. This made me mad.”
If you hadn’t guessed, when Michalsen gets mad, she springs into action.
She wrote to Michael Dohnert, the Mets Senior Director of Ballpark Operations at Citi Field and a Green-Sports leader, urging the team join their crosstown rivals on the Sport For Climate Action Squad.
“We need to shame the Mets because they need to be in the framework, end of story!”, Michalsen exclaimed. “You know, I spend hours a day reading absolutely devastating environmental and climate news. So, writing to the Mets was a pleasure; it felt good to do it. Hey, the team hasn’t been good on the field in recent years; let’s do the right thing on climate.”
Dohnert and the Mets have not gotten back to Michalsen, but she is undaunted.
“This is not the end, it’s just the beginning,” said Michalsen. “I’ve enlisted George Hindiger, co-owner with his sister of Hindinger Farm in Hamden and lifelong Mets fan, to contact the club to urge them to join Sport for Climate Action. He’s a farmer; he gets it about climate change. My next project will be to contact the players themselves. They will be the most impacted by the severe heat as they pitch, hit and run out fly balls day after day. How about it, fellow Mets fans? Want to join in?”
If you’re a Mets fan, or a fan of any stripe who would like to work with Sheila Michalsen to get the Mets sign on to the Sport for Climate Action framework, email Sheila at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GSB’s Take: The Mets, thanks in part to the good work of Mike Dohnert, have made significant Green-Sports strides since moving into Citi Field 11 years ago. But those have been mostly behind the scenes.
Will the club, which looks to be in the midst of an ownership transition, take a big public step by signing on to the Sport for Climate Action framework any time soon?
As the late, great relief pitcher, Tug McGraw, often said during the Mets amazing run to the 1973 National League Eastern Division championship, “You Gotta Believe!”
But belief alone is not enough.
That’s why the Sheila Michalsen’s of the world are very important, pushing sports organizations like the Mets to take positive actions on climate from the bottom up.
How many more Sheila Michalsen’s are there out in the world of sports fandom? Watch this space.
Meanwhile, if the Mets disappoint Michalsen, the Philadelphia Phillies are only 90 miles down I-95 from New York and they haven’t joined Sport for Climate Action yet.