Environment's Champions

Peter Mooney - Contributing Writer
Posted on Wednesday 24th June 2009

If you navigate to any popular sports website or open to the sports section of any major newspaper, you may find that the leading headlines are negative. From the proliferation of steroid scandals to bloated egos and salaries, the morals of professional athletes are under scrutiny. Unfortunately, as a result many of today's positive stories about athletes get pushed to the margins. There are still many to be told about today's professional athletes. For instance, athletes as a group are some of the largest contributors to charitable causes. Not surprisingly, athletes most often support causes related to physical conditions and health issues rather than the environment. Nonetheless, green sports stars do exist, and, in the spirit of giving these athletes their due, here's a look at the work of some of the most well known contributors:

Yao Ming, Center, Houston Rockets

One of the tallest athletes in the world is also the most well known contributor to environmental causes. In fact, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) chose Yao Ming as its first Environmental Champion for his contributions to environmental conservation. The well-known athlete has spoken out against poaching and the the hunting of sharks for their fins. In a statement after his acceptance of UNEP's coronation, Ming promised to “work with young people across the world and try to inspire them to plant trees, use energy efficient light bulbs, harvest rain water and to become environmental champions in their own communities.”

Steve Nash, Guard, Phoenix Suns

Steve Nash, another environmentally-conscious basketball player, supported Ming in his goodwill efforts last September when he and fellow professional basketball player Carmelo Anthony participated in a charity game against the Chinese national team. The game, which Ming said was Nash's idea, raised $2.5 million for improving environmental education for disadvantaged children in western China. Nash has actively supported the environment in other ways as well. For instance, last year, Nash convinced Nike to create "Trash Talk" athletic footwear made of 100 percent recycled materials, which were introduced on Earth Day. Nash wore the sneakers during games to promote them. Nash's foundation also promotes environmental conservation with a “Green the Earth” message.

Ian Thorpe, Swimmer and Five-Time Olympic Gold Medalist

Ian Thorpe uses a far different method than Ming and Nash in helping to protect the environment. Action Earth, a 25-episode series produced and hosted by Thorpe in 2007, tackled prominent environmental topics, like recycling, renewable energy, and water usage. Thorpe also produced and hosted Fish Out Of Water, a two-hour documentary examining the effects of global warming and climate change on coastal areas and waterways in Australia. Most recently, Thorpe backed Australia's National Solar Schools Program.

There are several other notable athletes who actively support the environment, including surfer Kelly Slater, sprinter Cathy Freeman, and former tennis great Billie Jean King. It seems then that environmental causes represented in the athletic community are worth mentioning.

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