The latest trend for every American major league sport is to add sponsor patches to their uniforms. For sports like soccer, it’s part and parcel with the culture of the sport, with the MLS simply falling in line with the major European clubs. Some organizations utilize it for charity, like the Utah Jazz partnering with 5 For The Fight to help fund cancer research and awareness. Others lean into the extremely lucrative sports betting industry and partner with big-name sportsbooks like the Washington Capitals did with Caesars Entertainment. Other teams, like the Cleveland Guardians, keep it local, with the team recently announcing they’ll be wearing the Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Corporation logo on their sleeves starting today.
Typically, a multi-million dollar sports franchise deciding to go local would be a slam dunk, right? Well, not exactly. For a team like the Guardians, who are still trying to bury the ghosts of their past, distancing yourself from controversy as much as possible should always be the move. But, when partnering with a fossil fuel giant like Marathon, the largest petroleum manufacturer in the United States, it can be difficult to see the good intentions behind it.
It’s no secret that everyone knows fossil fuels are a finite resource that serves nearly 80% of the world’s energy needs. That need for energy has extracted a massive toll on humanity and the environment from air and water pollution to global warming to nearly a half million innocent Iraqi citizens slaughtered in the United State’s invasion of Iraq. It’s estimated that unless more reserves are found, the general consensus is that natural fossil fuel resources will be depleted by 2060.
Sure, that’s still 37 years from now, but it’s still haunting to think that the thing that’s caused more harm than good could one day end. But that’s just the optics surrounding the entirety of the fossil fuel industry. Marathon plays a part in it, but they’re just a cog in the machine and what some consider a necessary evil of late-stage capitalism. But, when viewing what Marathon has done to harm the greater good, the Guardians’ goal of staying away from controversy becomes less obtainable.
Regarding environmental damages, which can constitute energy conservation violations, environmental violations, fuel economy (CAFE) violations or offshore drilling violations, Marathon has racked up $31.9 million in fines since 2020 from its flagship company and subsidiaries. Some of the minor offenses come from its San Antonio-based refinery Tesoro Corporation resulted in a $4500 penalty for improper handling of materials and air pollution. The biggest hitter in that stretch again came from Tesoro Corporation to the tune of $27.5 million when they ignored requirements to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions surrounding their Martinez, California refinery after being warned in 2016.
For those who don’t know, exposure to nitrogen oxide emissions can cause damage to the human respiratory tract and increase a person’s vulnerability to, and the severity of, respiratory infections and asthma. Long-term exposure to high levels of nitrogen oxide emissions can cause chronic lung disease. Speaking of not keeping consumers safe, in 2019 Marathon was penalized $22.5 million dollars after breaking Kentucky price-gouging laws in 2007. When Kentucky was flooded along the Mississippi River after Hurricane Katrina, Marathon raised gas prices by $0.30 overnight, making resources less accessible to those trying to escape and survive the destruction.
In a more nearby and recent instance, Marathon lost a battle to keep its controversial southwest Detroit oil refinery from an environmental protection ordinance regarding its storage of petroleum coke, or pet coke. Pet coke is typically used as a fuel for cement kilns and utility boilers. But, until it was sold, Marathon wanted to keep storing its pet coke, uncovered less than 4,000 feet from the Rouge River, less than 3 miles from where it flowed into the Detroit River.
That storage resulted in dust entering the atmosphere and water supply, exposing nearby residents to an increased lung and heart disease risk. The request was eventually denied, but it shows how little Marathon cares about consumer well-being. Instead of prioritizing safety, a company worth $49.5 billion would rather save on the margins by putting others at risk. To add insult to injury, rather than focusing on the community’s well-being, Marathon spent $5 million to drive out residents and level nearly 3040 homes to create a buffer zone between themselves and the community.
Due to how lucrative the fossil fuel industry is and, more importantly, how strong a stranglehold Marathon has in the United States, these violations are a dime a dozen. It also helps when mega-corporations like Marathon reap the benefits of government assistance and loopholes. In the early beginnings of the pandemic in 2020, Marathon laid off 1,920 workers across the United States despite raking in nearly $2.1 billion in federal tax benefits designed to soften the blow companies would face during the rise of COVID-19. There are also claims that Marathon falsified public records to get a better deal on tax breaks worth nearly $43 million.
There’s plenty more that Marathon has done and this story only scratches the surface of the damages the local corporation has done in the past decade. Since 2000, Marathon has been fined nearly $1.5 billion, only 3.0% of their estimated net worth, for financial, consumer, safety, employment and environmental offenses. Partnering with Marathon is horrible optics for a team like the Guardians trying to distance themselves from controversy as much as possible. The deal between the Guardians and Marathon only runs until the end of the 2026 season. But, considering how toxic Marathon is, perhaps it’ll end sooner rather than later.
Evan Dammarell is an award-winning sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at email@example.com. He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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