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Al Gore and the Sports World

By Suzy Shuster (Huffington Post) - January 15, 2007

Rod Woodson sat on his couch with his wife watching Oprah, and became horrified by the pictures he saw and the words he heard. He immediately knew that he had to help bring about a change.

Woodson, the man who rose from the couch, only happens to be an eleven time Pro-Bowl defensive back, and one of the greatest players in the history of the National Football League.

The man who moved him? Al Gore.

Nobel Prize or not, Gore’s words are already resonating within a world conventionally outside his sphere of influence. A green movement has sprung in all seasons of sport, gaining momentum within The National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and beyond. Baseball is the first sport to step forward, announcing league-wide greening initiatives, and the NBA isn’t far behind. Individual NFL franchises are following, with the Philadelphia Eagles setting a sterling — make that platinum — example, with its “Think Green” slogan a double entendre: indeed, green is no longer just the color of their uniform. Or the color of the field turf at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly.

And yet, it just may be the individual athletes who hold the greatest power, with the greatest impact on raising public awareness of global warming and environmentalism — and not a moment too soon. With daily sports pages (and all too often, the front pages) seemingly filled with stories of athletes gone wrong, from steroids to incomprehensible dog abuse, from violence to drug busts, athletes’ Q ratings are not globally warming to say the least. But now, more and more are seeing green as an important social issue rather than the cash in their pockets. And they’re thinking the time for environmental change is now.

None other than two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns devoted his entire summer charity event to the Stop Global Warming movement. At his event in Canada, he screened An Inconvenient Truth for a standing room only audience. How many current sports greats spend their time speaking to people on the subjects of carpooling, recycling, and energy efficiency? Steve Nash does. In fact, to make a statement about the need for more fuel-efficient cars, he seriously wanted to drive his gas-guzzling SUV off a cliff but, concerned about others literally following suit, the Suns assist leader fittingly passed on the idea. Nash is now working on a campaign with NRDC to take his leadership skills to a far more reaching court — the United States Congress. I should know — I’m taking Nash to closed door meetings with US Rep Edward Markey, chairman of the House of Representatives’ global warming committee.

Woodson isn’t the only NFL player concerned about the effects of climate change. Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones was so moved by An Inconvenient Truth that he spent three days of his summer break attending Gore’s grassroots tutorial. Now, Jones can present the movie’s lecture and corresponding slide show on his own.

Kyle Orton, the third string quarterback of the Chicago Bears, used to be known for being a Heisman Trophy candidate out of Purdue University. Now, he’s making a name for himself by driving a Prius to work at Soldiers Field, parking it amongst the “blinged out” SUV’s and “tricked out” muscle cars his teammates drive to work. Orton tells me he received constants ribbing from the guys for his eco-car, but that he can handle it, and it’s a way to demonstrate he’s willing to put his money where his mouth is. Now, he’s working with the Natural Resources Defense Council to ways to implement green change in the Bears locker room. One day soon, Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith’s playbook could be printed on double-sided recycling paper thanks to Orton. I’m not kidding.

Back to basketball. Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets Center, a Chinese National and arguably the most popular athlete in the world is channeling his popularity for the cause. Yao is so troubled by the polluted air smothering his native Beijing, so concerned about his aging parents living there beneath the smog, that he is joining forces with Leonardo DiCaprio to create a campaign aimed at educating Chinese children, their parents, and their government. His message: China is a major contributor to Global Warming, and changes must be made to combat it right now, not shoved onto the backs of later generations.

These, just a few of the athletes who have picked up a pen, or should I say, sat at the keyboard and joining Laurie David’s virtual march on Stopglobalwarming.org. Rod Woodson was so compelled after listening to Al Gore that he was inspired to write the following:

My wife Nickie and I were talking about where will our five kids or our grandkids go to see polar bears if there is no ice in the Arctic? Where will they go to see any coral reefs if the waters and the water temperatures continue to rise? Where will they go skiing if there is no snow? All the things we take for granted will be gone if we, as individual nations, and corporations do not come together, no matter how much it costs to stop what we’ve started. Our lives and the world are worth much more than the money we make by killing the planet.
Athletes then followed his lead. Guys like Reggie Bush, Carson Palmer, Deion Sanders, Kobe Bryant, & Chase Utley amongst others took the time to say take the time to learn about climate change. Several have shot PSA’s airing on Stopglobalwarming.msn.com. Celebrities may get all the attention in the glossies, but when athletes set an example, their words are far-reaching, deep into the inner cities, across Mid-western farmlands, up and down coasts. If athletes, the symbol of machismo personified, say green is cool, then kids will listen. And learn. And Al Gore will have scored the greatest touchdown of all.