Nebraska is fast becoming the epicenter of the battle over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The state’s Republican governor and both U.S. senators want it rerouted around the state, environmentalists are warning about the pipeline’s threat to the Ogalalla Aquifer, and local farmers and landowners are screaming “not in my backyard.”
Last Saturday, TransCanada, the company seeking approval for construction of this 1,700-mile-long pipeline that would carry tar sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, got booed and then booted out of the most important and influential place in the whole state. No, not the state capitol, nor the Berkshire Hathaway headquarters. I’m talking, of course, about Memorial Stadium, where the University of Nebraska’s adored Cornhuskers take to the gridiron.
During a game against Fresno State, some video ads for TransCanada played on the stadium’s big screens. And they were received with big boos.
Here’s how the Lincoln Journal Star described the scene:
A highlights video for the Huskers' 1978 conference championship football team appeared on the giant HuskerVision screen inside the stadium. When the logo for the video's sponsor appeared at the beginning and end, people in the stands began booing.
"To me, that was just a real strong gut punch as a Nebraskan," [Nebraska fan Allen] Schreiber said.
To him and others who saw the video titled the "Husker Pipeline," it appeared to be an advertisement for sponsor TransCanada.
Schreiber had just returned from Washington, D.C., where he had been arrested at the White House in an act of mass civil disobedience organized by climate activist and OnEarth contributing editor Bill McKibben to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. (He's like those other “Tar Sands Jailbirds” whose stories we’ve been featuring.)
Having heard the “boos” loud and clear, the university announced Wednesday that it was cutting sponsorship ties with TransCanada and wouldn’t be running any more of its ads in the stadium or anywhere else.
University of Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne -- a true Nebraska legend, having coached the Huskers for more than 20 years -- emphasized that the school wasn’t taking any position on the pipeline itself, but he recognized that the issue had become too political for the sporting arena. Osborne said:
"We have certain principles regarding advertising in the stadium such as no alcohol, tobacco or gambling advertisements. We also avoid ads of a political nature ... Over the last two or three months, the pipeline issue has been increasingly politicized. Our athletic events are intended to entertain and unify our fan base by providing an experience that is not divisive."
Osborne himself is no stranger to politics. He served for six years as a Republican representative for the state’s 3rd District.
The local group BOLD Nebraska, which is campaigning to block construction of the pipeline, celebrated Obsorne's "values and leadership" in making the decision: "In the end, this bold decision by Coach Osborne is one more sign that Nebraskans do not want TransCanada's toxic pipeline anywhere near our land and water."
Photo (cc) by beatboxbadhabit on Flickr