I leaped over couches, circling my first-floor childhood home like a merry-go-round, as I celebrated a Michael Jordan jump-shot in the ‘92 NBA finals. I’ve pumped my fists and exchanged video text messages with my friends in anticipation of another memorable Tom Brady playoff game. I rooted fiercely for the comeback story of Tiger Woods in 2019, because I admired his competitiveness as an athlete. Through my own sports playing days from high school in Massachusetts, to Division 3 basketball at UC Santa Cruz and semi-pro football in the New England Football League, I have tried to emulate the pro athletes whom I have greatly valued.
Like countless others, I have admired these athletes and tried to take their best qualities into my sports play or even into just everyday life. Many of these athletes have also been key voices in the growing social justice movement, especially in combating hate and racism. Examples include former NFL quarterback Colin Kaeparnick taking a knee during the national anthem, Celtics star Jaylen Brown leading protests in Atlanta, and Lebron James helping with the “get out the vote” effort that was so crucial in the recent Presidential election. However, I say now to all my heroes over the years -- from the hardwood, to the ice, on the diamond, on the football field -- It is not enough.
For example, when thinking of "home", some of us live in a little apartment in Jersey City (raising hand), some of us live in "nice" suburban homes, some of us live in high-rise buildings in the middle of a major city, some of us live in mansions with huge yards and pools and so on.... These widely varying living quarters reflects the broad inequitable caste-like culture built in to our system of economics. We know there is a materials/money-wealth gap in our country as well as in other nations. But there is one reality that we all do share above all others: Our true, ultimate Home -- Earth or more specifically the part of the earth where there is life, the biosphere. We do not and will not have a second planet on which to evolve or de-evolve. Yet our behaviors and decisions mirror the erroneous thinking that we have unlimited resources to consume and use up, before we move to a new sector of the Universe! Hey, even if the sci fi world of Elon Musk or someone else is able to help create a new planet to occupy, we will still need to do what we are not doing very well here -- preserving and respecting our main provider, Nature. We would still need to face reality and obey Nature's rules such that we actually support a healthy biosphere, one that promotes fresh air, clean water, chemical-free soils, expanding forests, plastic-free seas, biodiversity and a greater commitment of how best to live within the "rules" of the planet, as opposed to competing with or ignoring it.
The broad reach of climate change: Many athletes on the highest sports stage are doing essential social justice advocacy, but despite the fact that many have children and certainly want them to have a viable future, the ongoing "umbrella" issue of Mother Earth as a Home-in-peril is overlooked. The continuing human-caused Climate change reality impacts everything from social injustice, to the growing gap between rich and poor and most of all to our future generations' health and well-being. Without a healthy, sustainable biosphere, all the very important societal issues will become moot. The problems are real and deep and in a very clear box. But the box is sitting in a larger Home, very much under-appreciated and mistreated. Athletes here and globally at the professional level across all sports often have great influence in their words and actions. They also have mind-boggling amounts of money. The term "embarrassment of riches" is thrown around as a cliché, albeit it is a fitting term for many of these professional athletes. There's no question that a future with some reasonable harmony with the biosphere depends on courageous new government and corporate policies, as well as significant life style and values changes by all citizens. But, given where we live, in the United States and its current economic system, even with all its faults, monetary support on a grand scale can be used in very positive ways to help drive the mandatory nature protection and reduce climate change intensity.
Amazon's indigenous peoples a key to a healthy future: It is clear that a teacher making $60,000/year is not 100 times less valuable to society or the earth, than an athlete making $6,000,000 year. There are ways for our current economic system to be more compatible with and work for the planet. There is a way for pro athletes to once again be leaders and put monies and their voices toward helping ensure less trauma and hardship from human-caused climate change and related misdeeds for the sake of their children and future generations. For example, athletes can help lead the charge on preserving the essential Amazon rainforest in South America. The billions of trees and other plants there are crucial to helping combat climate change, for its nearly 20% oxygen contribution, and for medicinal discoveries. The main protectors of the Amazon are indigenous peoples who are currently being besieged by outsiders seeking to mine, extract oil, and remove forests for cattle grazing or monoculture farming. Moreover, these unlawful entries into indigenous regions have contributed to the spread of the covid-19 virus. The continued harm to indigenous peoples and the wild land they know so well from hundreds of years of ancestral experience are a severe threat to our children and the future. After all, one of the main ways climate change can be controlled is by keeping as many trees alive and healthy as possible and even greatly expanding tree-numbers, for plants take in massive amounts of carbon dioxide through their leaves for photosynthesis. Despite the awareness of switching to electric cars and renewable energy growth worldwide, there is still drilling-for-oil within some of the most biodiverse regions in the world, such as in eastern Ecuador rainforests of the northwest Amazon and other vulnerable nature areas globally. Athletes can help lead the way to forever end our dependence on fossil fuels which are severely affecting 70% of the planet, our oceans. Due to our excess burning of carbon, temperatures of not only the air, but of the seas have risen. This has led to coral reefs around the globe being put in real danger. These reefs, which have been for millions of years a key habitat for thousands of species, are dying. Moreover, wide varieties of fish come to coral reefs to lay their eggs. Coral reef demise means fish demise, and this is a major problem, for much of the world’s human population depends on these fish as a key protein source.
Earth-care has to matter at least as much as sports: We need athletes to give their voices and funds to selected, meaningful grassroots environmental organizations and indigenous communities who work to promote practices that build healthy soils, expand and protect forests and biodiversity, protect wildlife through increasing anti-poaching patrols, and even help purchase natural areas for protection/conservation. Recently, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NBA and NHL set up a bubble-type format that completely cut out air travel. Planes zig-zagging across the country and world are a huge problem with fossil fuel emissions. In this new season, NBA teams are playing more “mini-series” greatly cutting down on travel. It is being done because of the pandemic but this and other sports leagues and their player unions must develop similar plans post-pandemic as a necessary permanent action to reduce greenhouse gases. Darwincu.jpg Two summers ago, over 3 billion dollars was paid out in contracts to NBA players during the “free agency period,” where players are free to sign with any team. The number continues to go up each year. There is no reason that portions of contracts, with these athletes' consent or by the athletes themselves, who make tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, can’t go to varying environmental specific causes with a proven track record. For example, the NBA's Charlotte Hornets' forward Gordon Hayward got his second career long term deal this offseason, both worth over 100 million dollars. Yes, half or more goes to taxes. However, that doesn’t change anything in terms of that phrase “embarrassment of riches.” It is still a huge amount of money.
Even just one per cent... If every athlete that got a contract like Hayward regularly gave just 1 percent of their yearly salary to preserve rainforests that are crucial in the fight against climate change, that would be a legacy and influence that is beyond calculation. I admire these athletes and have looked up to them throughout my life. Still do. But they now need to become active, giving advocates and spokespersons for caring for Home. Nothing is more urgent than protecting the planet upon which we live. And, much of the science-based grassroots leadership around the world caring for and protecting the environment are peoples of color. This athlete commitment would serve as an expanding powerful bridge between essential racial/cultural diversity and crucial biodiversity, between justice for maltreated citizens and communities and action to stop the continued assaults on nature, and between connecting our community home to the Home that gives us our lifeblood, mother earth. I will continue to scream “lets go!” as Marcus Smart knocks down a clutch 3 point shot for the Celtics in an NBA playoff game or give a pump fist as Brooks Koepka drains a clutch 20 foot birdie putt in the Masters golf tournament. But now, I’m really ready to celebrate and be inspired when my favorite athletes give more of their time, voice and yes money to reverse the human-caused environmental damage that will otherwise severely and negatively impact the future of their and everyone’s children and other innocent life, including in generations to come. Bottom line - It's time for an organized, energized, and ongoing Athletes Committed to Earth-care (ACE)!