Commentary

It isn't easy being green

Who says sportswriters can't save the planet? I'm going green!

Updated: November 18, 2009, 2:17 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

Rick ReillyAs Rick Reilly found out, you can't go green without some bumps and bruises along the way.

This column appears in the Nov. 30 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Sportswriters have turned the air blue. They've had the red ass. They've been accused of yellow journalism. But no sportswriter has ever tried to write an entirely green column.

Until now.

1 p.m.: I vow not to use a single unnecessary ounce of the earth's resources. Ride bike from Denver to Boulder to cover a Kansas-Colorado football game? Check. Use old golf pencil? Check. Recycle jokes? Check. I'm even reusing a first-grade buddy, Kevin Cartin, a bike freak.

We're wearing natural fabrics. We won't eat red meat, because bovine flatulence is a greenhouse gas. We'll ask players about polar bears under fluorescent lights while wearing Birkenstocks.

So what's the first thing Kevin says to me when we meet? "I drove the course last night, just to make sure there were no surprises."

I look at him, mouth agape. He tilts at me like the RCA dog. "Hello?" I say. "It's supposed to be the first green column ever!"

"Damn," he says.

2:31: As I ride my rented road bike (no energy used in building a new one), I tell Kevin that, yes, the Buffs fly to road games, but they counter the jet fuel they use by donating carbon offset grants to the Colorado Carbon Fund. And yes, they have trash cans at the stadium, but a team of students goes through every single piece of garbage afterward to separate everything that's recyclable or compostable. (For the KU game, only 15% of garbage will be waste.)

Really, CU is greener than Leonardo DiCaprio. You can't even buy potato chips at the stadium, because the bags aren't recyclable.

"But this is a night game, right?" Kevin says. "What about the lights?"

And that's when I crash. I hit a curb and go caterwauling over my handlebars like Robbie Maddison, donating a five-inch slab of skin to Arvada, Colo. My right hand feels like it has been stepped on by the Texas marching band. And there are only two hours of riding to go!

5:14: One wreck, two flats and four or five wrong turns later, we arrive at Folsom Field, 14 minutes after kickoff. It has taken 4 hours 14 minutes. Somehow, what should've been a 30-mile ride winds up being 40.2. My hand looks like the Elephant Man's.

5:18: I am living like my sons did as teens. I pee but I do not flush.

6:07: Yes, the Kansas game is played under the lights, but they're low-wattage bulbs, much like many E! anchors. Also, CU does not waste treated water on its football field. It uses untreated ditch water. And it apparently doesn't feed its defensive backs meat. They're awful.

The foam finger -- the plague of science.

6:31: As I'm riding the elevator to interview the school president, I realize I'm supposed to be taking the stairs. I blame it on all the blood leaving my brain for my hand, which is now throbbing like a Berlin dance club.

7:17: CU is really into this zero-waste thing. Nearly every cup it sells is compostable or recyclable. I ask Ed von Bleichert, CU's environmental operations manager, what drives him crazy. "Plastic rings that hold six-packs together, plastic grocery bags, ice bags and foam fingers," he says. The foam finger -- the plague of science.

8:47: The Buffs are into the saving thing too. They stun the 17th-ranked Jayhawks, 34-30, probably saving coach Dan Hawkins' job. Kevin doesn't see the end, though. He leaves early to go home and eat meat.

10:47: Been waiting 45 minutes for the bus back to Denver. (Oh, shut up. It's green enough.) Temperature dropping. Only thing green right now is my hand. People look very warm and happy in their comfortable, Godzilla-carbon-footprint SUVs. Bastards. I hope they choke on bovine flatulence.

11:03: Bus finally arrives. Put bike on front rack. Takes five minutes because I have only one hand. Energy used by other passengers to help me: zero.

11:42: Bus packed like a Tokyo crosstown. I sit next to a college kid playing metal on his earbuds so loud, I can hear every scream. I look on his iPhone and it says, "Tool." I think, I wonder what band he's listening to?

11:48: Bus arrives in Denver, but I seriously can't grip the handlebars. I hail a cab and throw the bike in the back. So sue.

Three days later: When I tell my older son about my Al Gore life, he asks, "Where are you running this column?"

"The Mag, where else?" I say.

He looks at me, mouth agape.

I tilt at him like the RCA dog.

"Hello?" he finally says. "All that paper? That ink? The gas for the trucks?"

"Damn," I say.

(Please consider the environment before printing this column.)


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