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New Nonprofit on Mission to Educate, Coach Athletes to Engage Public on Climate Crisis

EcoAthletes, a New York-based nonprofit, launches today to harness the massive power of athletes to influence millions of fans to take action to fight climate change.

Athletes have, for decades, spoken out on a myriad of social issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, gender equality, toxic masculinity and much more, using their voices to impact millions of fans. Yet when it comes to climate change, most have been slow to engage.

The new nonprofit’s approach is to identify, inspire, coach, and deploy “EcoAthlete Champions” to talk about climate change whenever possible, in whatever ways work for them.

“As Founding Editor of GreenSportsBlog, I have asked dozens of athletes from all over the world why they have not spoken out to raise awareness of or advocate for advances to combat climate change,” says Lew Blaustein, founder and President of EcoAthletes. “The reasons are almost always the same: ‘It’s too complicated. It’s too political. It involves science and I’m not a scientist. It’s a problem for my grandkids and I want to have impact now. I don’t want to be criticized for having a gas guzzler…’ EcoAthletes was created to change that; and, in so doing, unleash the unmatched power of athletes to spur critical cultural change.”

EcoAthletes is backed by a stellar advisory board that includes sports figures such as Paralympic sailor Alexandra Rickham and Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter; along with Jenny Vrentas, Senior Reporter at Sports Illustrated; Madeleine Orr, founder of Sport Ecology Group; Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University; and Elysa Hammond, VP of Environmental Stewardship at Clif Bar, which has long sponsored activist athletes around the world.

“The good news on climate change is that technical solutions exist right now; the big question is do we have the collective will to make the changes necessary to get us a clean energy future fast enough,” Suter said. “That is why I’m excited to be part of this organization. EcoAthlete Champions will be given the tools needed to talk about climate in media interviews, on social media or to community groups. Our reach can inspire millions to take positive action on climate.”

Blaustein acknowledges that building a network of EcoAthlete Champions during a global pandemic would likely be more difficult than usual, but because the climate crisis is getting more urgent, and athletes will likely have more time than usual to engage on the topic, the team believes now is the time to launch.

“Many athletes are rightfully getting involved with coronavirus relief-related efforts,” Blaustein noted. “By launching now, we believe that some athletes will also use this time to engage on climate because, like coronavirus, climate change is an urgent global crisis that demands action now. There are also ways to frame the climate issue through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic; and by launching now, we can support athletes to leverage their platform to take positive action against both global challenges.”

The organization’s original athlete outreach plan was to meet athletes at spring training, at rookie symposia, during the offseason, etc. Given the still-unfolding coronavirus pandemic, EcoAthletes will make it easy for athletes to become EcoAthlete Champions, coaching them via webinars and virtual individual training sessions.

A small but mighty group of world-class athletes are already outspoken on the need for environmental consciousness and climate action — social media influencers including US Olympic snowboarding champion Sage Kotsenburg, pro surfer Albee Layer and pro skateboarder Nora Vasconcellos have teamed up with likeminded brands such as JuneShine hard kombucha to promote sustainability; the Vestas 11th Hour Racing sailing team and retired pro surfer Kelly Slater are drawing more awareness to the plight of our oceans; and the dozen or so high-performing champions from a wide range of sports featured in the recent documentary, The Game Changers, are powerful proponents of switching to plant-based diets. Look for a new class of EcoAthlete Champions to hopefully join their ranks soon.

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