By: Claire Costelloe
My earliest memories of athletics are sitting outside with my dad on Saturday afternoons, listening to the Chicago Cubs play (and usually lose) on his 1981 AM/FM radio. Flash-forward 15 years, one failed attempt to play tennis, and several hundred miles run on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, I am a student-athlete at the University of Chicago. Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it, sacrificing countless hours that could otherwise be spent studying (sleeping) to do what many would consider some sort of medieval torture. Yet, I’d never walk away from it. My personal experience with athletics has given me more than a simple interest: it has given me something that I have become deeply invested in as well as a community to share it with. Participation in sports – whether as an athlete or spectator – is an incredibly powerful force that can bring people together to focus on a common purpose, and shape—as well as be shaped by—culture. Sports can drive celebration, and even in defeat, maintain the hope that there is always next season.
Green athletics create the opportunity to integrate this culture with the sustainability movement. Green programming doesn’t incite a viewership that a large event like the Super Bowl does (the 2016 Super Bowl averaged 111.9 million viewers)[[ Sandomir, Richard. “Viewership of Super Bowl Falls Short of Record.” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 8 Feb. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.]]. But it does offer a platform to inspire sustainable action that the environmental movement cannot achieve on its own, yet so desperately needs to be effective. A sustainable society depends on the commitment of all people to make greener choices, and athletics have the potential to spread these ideas to a large and diverse group of people. Education is one of the most powerful tools in combatting present and future effects of negligent behaviors towards the environment. And the people drawing from these experiences are passionate, committed, and enthusiastic. They are the ones committed to tailgating at Soldier Field when the temperature drops below freezing. The ones who will never abandon the Cubs. Imagine if something like recycling was met with half the energy of Blackhawks fans screaming the lyrics to “Chelsea Dagger” after a game-winning goal.
This relationship is not limited to athletic endeavors promoting environmentalism. Athletics often aren’t the focal point of the University of Chicago, with the occasional freshman baffled to learn that there actually is a football team. Here, the prospect of green athletics has the potential to not only spread environmental messages but also highlight the University’s athletic department. Green sports become the means through which athletic programs, regardless of scale or school, can become more engaged with the community at large. Green sports allow for the development of environmentalism and athletics to flourish, two elements fundamental to modern society, feeding off each other to make both better.
Claire is a third year economics and environmental studies major and member of the University of Chicago cross country and track team. She is currently enrolled in the ENST 26433 Practicum in Environmental Management course, which is conducting research on zero waste athletics events as part of the Office of the Provost’s Campus as a Lab initiative.