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NHL taking the green lead in pro sports

Last month, the NHL released their sustainability report, the first of its kind produced by a major sports league in North America. The report showcases NHL Green, an environmental sustainability initiative made public at the 2010 Bridgestone Winter Classic by Commissioner Gary Bettman. NHL Green was established to promote green practices across the league, and its goals include reducing the use of natural resources in business operations, to track and measure the environmental impact of the sport, and to inspire fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship.

Although the NHL has been criticized heavily for being slow to “get with the times”, most recently with their failure to acknowledge the severity of brain injuries due to contact to the head, this is a clear example of the league being proactive. It’s not the first time; last year, the NHL became the first major sports league in North America to associate themselves with an anti-homophobic group by partnering with You Can Play, an organization focused on promoting acceptance in the often homophobic world of sports.

The NHL is breaking barriers by being proactive to real world events, rather than being reactive when it’s too late. The environment has been a hot button topic for the last decade, yet the NHL is the first league to announce any real plans for change. This isn’t a marketing ploy to make themselves look good for the environmentalists; there is research and plans for the future to back up what they preach.

Having joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Senior Scientist Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the NHL is doing their part to change the way we go about life.

“The 2014 report is arguably the most important statement about the environment ever issued by a professional sports league,” said Hershkowitz. “The report’s focus on controlling fossil-fuel use and greenhouse gas emission is a mainstream wake-up call that climate disruption poses an existential threat to everything we hold dear, including sports and recreation.”

The report states that the league’s carbon footprint is currently 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This includes league and team business activities and travel for over 182 game days and nearly two million miles of team air travel per season. By way of comparison, the annual emission from the single largest coal power plant in the United States totals 23 million metric tons.

The league hopes to use NHL Green to reduce that with measures such as sharing between clubs and venues as well as audits of individual venues to identify needs and prioritize environmentally beneficial projects. They also plan on offsetting their environmental impacts, by both reducing their emissions and by purchasing “green power” — electricity from renewable, clean energy sources.

The report also looks into the league’s water usage (over 300 million gallons per season), the amount of waste going to landfill (25.5 tons), and the average amount of air travel for each team (65,000 air miles, emitting 3,136 metric tons of CO2). All of these are numbers the league hopes to bring down significantly in the future.

Change comes slowly to professional sports. If the NHL succeeds on following through with its initiatives, it could set the example needed to bring the rest of the sports world into the 21st century. It’s long overdue.

Hockey takes the lead in fighting homophobia

In April of this year, it was announced that the NHL, the NHLPA and You Can Play, an organization focused on eliminating homophobia in sports, have partnered up, and are going to work together to make hockey more accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

You Can Play, an organization co-founded by Patrick Burke (son of former Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke), is dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. The NHL is the first of the major sports leagues in North America to join with any anti-homophobia organization, which is a prime example of the great steps the league is making to be the most inclusive professional sports league. Many NHLers have openly voiced their support of the organization, with several groups of them taking part in promotional commercials for You Can Play. Two current NHL players, Tommy Wingels and Andy Miele, are even on the advisory board, demonstrating the commitment of the league to fight homophobia. The organization goes by the slogan “If you can play, you can play”, a mentality that the NHL is very proud to both support and follow. Commissioner Gary Bettman pointed out that the NHL’s slogan is “Hockey is for Everyone”, and feels that the partnership with You Can Play reinforces that position. You Can Play will be holding seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium, while at the same time making their resources available to all NHL teams and players.

This news was also followed by the more recent story of basketball player Jason Collins publicly coming out, becoming the first openly gay athlete to be currently playing in any of the major sports leagues in North America. The amount of support that Collins has received from teammates, players, coaches and general managers from around the league has been tremendous, and the public has reacted in a generally positive manner. It is a very firm statement of how far the world of sports has come with regards to eradicating homophobia.

However, it is still not far enough.

What Jason Collins did by being the first openly gay athlete in a major sport took great courage. He himself stated that he did not intend to become the first openly gay athlete, it was simply the time to do it. He has done what no one else has done, and he is incredibly brave to do so. The irony is that it shouldn’t be considered heroic to be who you are. The LGBT community has made incredible steps in the last few decades to being seen as equals in society, which is exactly what they deserve.

An area that has been slower to react, however, is the world of sports. Homophobic slurs and stereotypes still reign supreme in many locker rooms and arenas, both in professional and amateur sports. For too long have many sports (hockey, football, etc.) been tagged as heterosexual sports, while others are labelled as ‘gay sports’. I cannot tell you how many times have I heard people make rude comments like “leave figure skating to the gays”, along with many other vulgar slurs being casually thrown around. Whether you are gay, straight, or anywhere in between has absolutely no impact on your skill in sports. It should also have no effect on how you are treated in the locker room.

Everyone deserves to be comfortable in their own skin, and being an athlete is no exception. At this moment in time many athletes, both professional and amateur, do not feel comfortable being openly gay. That is not their problem, but ours. They have the right to be who they are, free of judgement. They have the right to be proud of who they are, instead of being labelled, stigmatized and shamed into hiding.

What You Can Play and the NHL is doing is a great step forward to getting rid of homophobia in hockey (and other sports). Acceptance starts at a young age. If athletes are taught from a young age that sexual orientation has nothing to do with skill, drive and passion in sports, maybe we will begin to see a more accepting culture. Society in general has become increasingly accepting of the LGBT, and although there is still much work do be done, we are moving in the right direction. The world of sports is lagging behind, but organizations like You Can Play combined with the open mindedness of leagues like the NHL will help bring sports closer to the acceptance the LGBT community deserves.

I look forward to the day where a gay athlete is no longer a news story.