SBJ Opinion: Selig’s legacy as environmental advocate is unmatched

SportsBusiness Journal Opinion:
Published February 23, 2015
Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D., Green Sports Alliance President

The retirement last month of Bud Selig after 22 years as commissioner of Major League Baseball gave sports industry insiders reason to celebrate his success in maintaining an unprecedented era of labor peace between players and owners, and his cultivation of record-breaking attendance for the league.

The public at-large might focus on his role as the first professional sports commissioner to confront the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs, and his efforts to develop the toughest drug-testing policy in sports.

But for me, someone who has collaborated with the commissioner and his staff as a pro bono adviser for 10 years, what I think the world needs to know is that Bud Selig is the most influential environmental advocate in the history of sports.

Does it matter when a sports figure is influential on a social issue? It does. Consider how culturally influential sports can be: Jesse Owens in 1936, debunking the Aryan supremacy myth. Billie Jean King beating Bobby Riggs in the first female vs. male professional tennis match, a big step toward pay equality. Passage of Title IX, leading to financing for women’s athletics. Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War and his role as a spokesman for civil rights. Magic Johnson’s openness about his HIV/AIDS infection, which helped to destigmatize that illness. Jackie Robinson breaking the race barrier in Major League Baseball. Michael Sam’s courageous statement about his sexual orientation, liberating athletes from the closet.

Indeed, few sectors are as influential as the sports industry. While 13 percent of Americans say they follow science, 71 percent say they are sports fans. It is clear that bringing environmental information to our cultural leaders is as important as bringing that information to our political leaders. As Nelson Mandela said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair.”

 

Bud Selig received the Green Sports Alliance’s first Environmental Leadership Award in 2012.
Photo by: BEN VAN HOUTEN

Selig understands this, and he courageously used his insight on behalf of our planet. At a speech in 2012 to the Green Sports Alliance, he told hundreds of attendees that he views environmental stewardship in the same vein that he views Robinson’s breaking the race barrier in sports:

“The shining example of Jackie Robinson convinced me that we could never waste baseball’s power to shape our national sense of the kind of society that we should strive to be. … That is why I’m delighted to highlight one of our proudest success stories, how our game has used its very unique platform to impress on millions of fans the importance of environmental stewardship and sustainability.”

Selig tested the environmental waters for professional sports, and others followed. In 2005, Selig launched the Commissioner’s Initiative on Sustainability. It was the first time a professional sports league developed an environmental program and included outreach about ecologically preferable products to teams and millions of fans. As a result of that, all other sports leagues followed.

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