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Pro Athletes Tour the Gulf, Share Their Thoughts

Posted Jul 13 2010 1:59pm

Ovie Mughelli

Today a group of professional athletes and Olympians boarded a fishing boat to tour the oil devastation on the Gulf Coast. Then they held a Sierra Club -hosted conference to share their impressions of the damage. The participating athletes were:

Mike Richter , an NHL goalie for the New York Rangers and three-time Olympian

Loree Smith , an Olympic track and field athlete

Leilani Munter , a NASCAR racer 

Ovie Mughelli , an NFL fullback for the Atlanta Falcons

Andrew Ference , an NHL defenseman for the Boston Bruins Leilani Munter

Mike Alstott , an NFL fullback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stacey Cook , an Olympic skier 

Chanda Rubin , a pro tennis player

Gary Morgan , an Olympic track and field athlete

Krista Bradford Ference , an X Games snowboarder

Mike Richter spoke of the problem’s vastness, and of the experience of being there floating around in a boat. He said, “We just have to change our ways. It’s time to ask the average American to understand that it’s in all of our interest.” He encouraged athletes to educate themselves to better understand environmental issues, and to use their platform to help people understand that “This is all of our problem” and that “It’s crucial to get it right,” adding that “The biggest thing we want to do is get average people to feel ownership.”

Loree Smith reiterated that message, saying that coming from Colorado, she came to the Gulf “pretty ignorant” and admitted feeling a certain amount of detachment from the oil disaster before visiting. “Seeing firsthand the massive destruction,” she continued, “I can see that it’s really just one part of a global problem, that everything’s connected. Seeing it really got me to appreciate that I really am a part of this.”
Leilani Munter
, who’d already visited the Gulf once since the spill, said, “I’m devastated to see how bad its gotten since the last time I was here. I hope that the one thing we can get out of this is that this is our clean-energy wake-up call. Clearly we need to take a really good look at how we’re living and we need to change this. This is ‘Drill, baby, drill.’ This is where it’s gotten us. It’s time for Americans to check ourselves into rehab and make a change.”

Ovie Mughelli expressed that he was “thrilled” at the chance to come out to see the Gulf. His impressions: “The whole boat ride, you could see where oil had gotten into the marsh and devastated it and started eroding the soil. And that’s just what we can see. We know that there’s so much under the water that we can’t see. It was a little disconcerting but I’m hopeful that once enough attention is brought to this that something can be done.” He added, “If we’re supposed to be the responsible adults, obviously we’re not doing our job right now. I wish there was more that I can do personally, but what I can do is raise awareness to move toward renewable energy. “We should do right by our kids. I have a 16-month-old daughter and she’s a constant reminder of that.”

Andrew Ference echoed that sentiment: “I’m a father of two,” he said, “and that’s a huge motivation. Really what it comes down to is that my parents' generation might have had an excuse. Now those excuses are gone. We have every technology available to change how we get our power. We have all the science that’s screaming at us to get it done. Now all that’s missing is the willpower. We as athletes don’t want to take the easy road of ignoring it. We don’t want to be beat by China or Germany. We here in North America have to put on a brave face and find the willpower.”

One thing that struck Stacey Cook was talking to the boat’s captain, a fishing tour guide, and hearing how fishing was his true passion. She said, “Skiing is my passion. If that was taken away from me, I’d be totally lost. In America, along with being good citizens of the Earth, we need to have the next generation be active and enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. That’s not going to happen at the rate we’re going.”

Chanda Rubin, who is from Louisiana, said that seeing the oil “struck pretty much every emotion,” adding, “Being from here, you take for granted the marshes, the fishing, the scenery, and you think it’s all going to be there forever – but it’s not. It’s unfortunate that it takes an event like this to be a wake-up call. But it’s an opportunity for us to come together and create some positive change. That’s why we’re here.”

Gary Morgan also expressed that the disaster should serve as a call to action, “especially for the president of the United States.”  Morgan, who is from Michigan, said, “This oil spill is just exposing many other environmental problems. The problem where I’m from is loss of wetlands since we’re not protecting our environment. It’s really starting to show. Everything is connected to everything. I hope this is a wake-up call.”

--Avital Binshtock
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