It’s odd how in the offseason there is very little news and yet we still find stuff to talk and write about. Roster analysis, trade rumors, free-agent signings, yada, yada, yada, the season starts.
But earlier this season a bit of actual, important news came from the Royals and was covered only briefly by local news outlets and some of the sports blogs. Did you catch it? There was an article by Steve Everly in the Kansas City Star about the Royals’ installation of solar panels as a way to help control energy consumption and benefit sustainability.
I actually wrote this post right after the article came out and sat on it. I wasn’t sure if it was something that people wanted to read about. But the other day I heard a radio advertisement form KCP&L touting their work on this project, and I got to thinking. Sport’s, and maybe especially baseball’s, position at the forefront of cultural and societal progress is extremely important, and that makes it important to talk about. So, I’m going to talk about it. The Royals’ installation of solar panels is a part of that.
What? Does that not seem important to you? I hope it does. It’s extremely important to me. I might be an idealist, but think about the conversations that this could start.
Child: Daddy. What are those things out there?
Father: Well, those are solar panels. They capture the sun’s energy and help run these lights and all the other stuff this stadium needs.
Child: Why do they need those though? We don’t have those.
Father: It’s a little better for the environment and a little less expensive I guess.
Child: Why don’t we have those?
Father: I don’t know. Maybe we should.
This is a little bit of a stretch, but the point is every kid who walks into Kauffman will now see that his/her favorite team tries to be environmentally conscious. That type of impression can reverberate for years as another drop in the bucket that turns the tide of an issue.
Sports have been at the forefront of progress in America for a long time. Think back to Jackie Robinson and racial integration. Think back to the conversation a father or mother and child might have had about the guy playing second who looked different than everyone else. Robinson helped create that dialogue, as did a number of other black players of that era. These breakthroughs preceded even the Civil Rights Movement (the mainstream “Civil Rights Movement” as it’s taught in many history classes anyway).
Sports operate in this interesting space of autonomy in some ways. Politicians, regardless of personal judgment, must lend an ear to those interests that fund their political campaigns. Often those interests are more apt to choose the status quo. But David Glass has no reason to care about the status quo of energy (if we’re thinking of him simply as a baseball owner). It’s more beneficial to him to save money on the light bills and enhance his image. Not many entities outside of sports influence those sports because the MLB, NFL, NBA are pretty self-sustaining enterprises (Turf industry? Is there a turf industry?). The fans do the funding in this arena, which is one reason why sports try to stay ahead of the populist ideal.
When obesity was just starting to become an issue, the NFL came out with its Play 60 campaign. Major League Baseball hopped onto he breast cancer cause as well, with the pink day that they do every year. I’m sure the NBA does some stuff too (I’m not a huge NBA fan. When they start rebounding and playing defense, I’ll start watching again.)
The cynical among us may cry that these things are only done to build each sports image. I can’t be sure if that’s true or not. I’m inclined to believe that these causes allow different sports to kill two birds with one stone. 1) Help people and progress. 2) Build an image. But even if it’s just to build an image, does that matter? Not really. The good is still being done. The messages, equality, charity, sustainability, compassion, are still being passed to future generations. Whether or not these messages were constructed for the right reasons doesn’t really matter.
I like the idea that sports can hold the position of autonomous vehicles for good. I like that they seemingly stand alone, in some ways the most democratic entities of our less-than-democratic society (we live in a republic people, always have). I’d like to see more ballparks do what the Royals did, and I think they will (I think the article mentions five teams now have solar panels including the Royals). It’s not necessarily the responsibility of sports to drive progress, but it may be in there best interest. And it may be their most important legacy.