I’ll give you my story. I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there’s one. I was an absolutely hockey-crazed kid. I played all sports. I was the youngest of seven kids and so we spent every moment outside. The Philadelphia Flyers at the time were winning the Stanley Cup, the championship. It was impossible not to be influenced by that. The entire sports community looked at that and I played all sports, but I always wanted to be in the NHL like these heroes that I watched.
My brother and I would play in our neighbor’s driveway, in the street, on my back patio. When my mom wasn’t there, we’d go inside and play in the living room. It does turn out that that plate glass window is not as strong as it looks.
For me, the real treat was the ponds freezing. We were outside as we were a little older, open the door in the morning, come back at dinnertime. We would play when those ponds froze all day long. There was no rules, there was no adults, there was nothing but just perfection. We go out there and just envision what we might want to be someday in the professional leagues. Those ponds, now you think back. I retired in 2004 and by the time I retired, glaciers are melting, the frozen lakes and ponds of North America are freezing later, melting earlier.
Honestly, if you’re back in Philadelphia now, my kids would not have a chance to play ice hockey on those same ponds. They do not freeze for the most part. It’s just a different opportunity. That made me think in a way that when I retire, I want to do something more meaningful. I’m not going to just live a comfortable life that we all could.
The melting ponds though, and the actual act of going out and playing in that unbelievable free space that I had with my brothers, that was my gymnasium as a kid. That was my training grounds, my arena. That was my Madison Square Garden, but it was another thing, it was also very much my Yosemite. The open fields that we were able to access, the little grove of trees that we built a fort, we were out all the time. To me, it instilled a love of nature.
As I move forward here and think about those melting ponds, I lived deeply that connection. My performance was absolutely bound to my health. Think of any Olympic athlete, you get a cold for those two weeks that you’re in Rio or Japan or wherever the Olympics happen to be, it’s over, a lifetime of work. Our performance is always contingent upon the health that you bring to the table. Everybody in here understands your health is bound by the environment in which you live, your ecosystems, the healthy water, clean air, all that stuff.
This is something that everybody can relate to, I think. It was just a part of me, ironically, just through playing hockey and watching that pond melt. It’s something that we all have to pull together and figure out because it affects everybody, not just athletes, not just people that are living in cold areas. Everybody’s negatively affected, foundation of our economy, geopolitical stability, quality of life, all these things. I think back and there’s this bifurcation athlete human.
Phil Knight had a statement when he was trying to sell sneakers early on with Nikes. He said, “If you breathe, you’re an athlete.” I say, if you breathe, you’re an environmentalist. You have a stake in getting this right. The air we breathe, the water we drink, it’s not a political thing. Everybody out there wants that for their kids, for themselves. It’s not a some time in the future thing. We got problems now and crucial for all of us to get it right.
I think nobody gets it right better than Rare. I’ve been telling people, telling stories, living the mantra that you have to have as a professional athlete playing a team sport. It takes everybody. The stick boy is important, the coach is important, the goalie is important. The backup goalie is important. The only time I ever had success, and we only did it once here in New York, was the tightest group of teams. I mean whatever could contribute was contributed, and if there was one guy that wasn’t pulling his weight, it was not going to happen. I can guarantee that.
Rare seems to understand that better than anybody I’ve seen. They go to the local level, they enfranchise people. There’s different outlooks on life, there’s different solutions out there, and they enfranchise people to do that. It’s a very powerful thing, which we need. When I look at this right now, I think it’s the perfect metaphor. I’ve almost missed that connection between enfranchise and everybody on the team, and thinking about the team that we have in this room and broader.
I was doing a report with my son and talking about the industrial revolution happened 250 years ago. That was 7 billion people ago. Now the numbers are staggering and the pressure on our natural resources is immense. That’s a problem. That was the beginning of the comfortable lifestyle that we all live now, but it’s also the beginning of the end of that pond that I skated on, and we’re all feeling that. Going forward, there’s a flip side to this too, and that is, look, 8 billion of us on this team, you dedicated people in this room, 8 billion across the world.
There’s a metaphor we use and it’s inscripted on the ring that we won, we won the championship here. It’s called heave-ho. Anytime a new draft pick, anytime a new player would be traded to the team, it’s an intimidating moment. You walk into this room of 30 faces you don’t know, and they expect you to perform. First thing everybody would say to them is heave-ho, grab an oar. That’s we’re all rolling in the same direction, we’re never going to get to our destination. To the 8 billion on our team, there’s a lot of solutions out there. It’s our opportunity, it’s our responsibility, grab an oar.
Thank you guys.