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The Power Of Ten
Alexander Wolff
December 10, 2012
IN 1987, SI BESTOWED ITS HIGHEST HONOR ON A GROUP OF SPORTS FIGURES DEDICATED TO HELPING OTHERS. A QUARTER CENTURY LATER, ATHLETES ARE CHANNELING THE SAME PASSION AND COMMITMENT TO EVER BROADER ISSUES, ON AN EVER WIDENING SCALE
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December 10, 2012

The Power Of Ten

IN 1987, SI BESTOWED ITS HIGHEST HONOR ON A GROUP OF SPORTS FIGURES DEDICATED TO HELPING OTHERS. A QUARTER CENTURY LATER, ATHLETES ARE CHANNELING THE SAME PASSION AND COMMITMENT TO EVER BROADER ISSUES, ON AN EVER WIDENING SCALE

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The Baltimore locker room isn't quite there yet. When three fundamentalist teammates staged what Ayanbadejo calls "an intervention," he whipped out the letter from the minister. When teammates use an expression like "that's so gay," he'll get in their faces so reliably that many now reflexively add, "Sorry, B.A.!" And some Ravens tease him over his high-profile role, calling him the Gay Ambassador. "I know I'm on the right side of history," he says. "We'll look back in 20 or 30 years like we look back on slavery or [the lack of women's] suffrage, things we've done throughout history that are completely wrong and weren't considered wrong."

Last month the Ravens defeated Oakland just after the Maryland initiative passed. During the game, Ayanbadejo says, several Raiders encouraged him with comments like "Good job" and "Keep it up." The 49ers have filmed an It Gets Better video to help reassure gay teenagers, and Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, Texans linebacker Connor Barwin and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita are among those who have joined Ayanbadejo as champions of gay rights. "The biggest thing is that homophobia is no longer cool," says Jim Buzinski of Outsports.com, which has identified 28 LGBT "allies" among NFL players. "It clearly still exists, as evidenced by the fact that we don't have any out athletes. But the culture is changing and laying the groundwork."

Roz Savage

A WATER WARRIOR

It's hard to imagine a better match of sport and advocate than ocean rowing and its leading practitioner, conservationist and climate-change activist Roz Savage. The lone woman to cross the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans solo, she'll turn a question so effortlessly into a homily on ecological stewardship that you'd think her real sport was jiu-jitsu. Are you ever scared? "You can overcome your fears when you're more afraid of something else. And what really scares me is that we might not realize what we're doing to our one and only planet in time to save the human race." What's it like to be in heavy weather on the open seas? "There's nothing like 20-foot waves to remind us where human beings stand in the scheme of things." How can someone make an impact on a problem so vast? "Most of the CO[subscript 2] in the atmosphere and plastic in the oceans has gotten there through the accumulation of many tiny, thoughtless actions by now seven billion people over the course of many years. Every tiny action counts, like five million oar strokes adding up to rowing across 15,000 miles."

In 2000, Savage, a former Oxford rower, walked away from a career as a London management consultant, as well as from her marriage, a $1.6 million Edwardian home and a bright red MX5 sports car, after imagining the look of her obituary if she were to remain on that path. She kited off to Machu Picchu for three months and studied the Hopi Indians' views on the relationship between humans and the earth. "Looking for a way to get the environmental idea across without preaching to the choir, I hit on this idea," says Savage, 44. "Or the idea came and hit me, really, to use ocean rowing as my platform."

Savage's first solo row, across the Atlantic, constituted part of that process of self-discovery, but the next two crossings became what she calls "outer journeys." All her causes—she champions 350.org, the Climate Reality Project, the Plastic Pollution Coalition and the Blue Frontier Campaign—target what she calls "the many-headed monster" of the climate crisis and ecological conservation. But, she says, "Really, the heart of that monster is us. On the one hand that makes it very simple because all we have to do is change our attitude. On the other hand that makes it unbelievably hard as well. Hopefully someday soon we'll reach a tipping point and there'll be a massive outbreak of common sense."

To hasten that day, Savage speaks and writes widely, and she's finishing up a stint as a World Fellow at Yale, where she studied global affairs and human behavior. "We tend to have very self-limiting beliefs about what's possible," she says. "I used to think I couldn't go on a big adventure because I wasn't 6'3" and bearded. But I think we could actually take much bolder steps than we tend to believe we can."

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