Alberto Salazar: No One Man Should Have All That Power

Editor’s Note: I was contemplating putting together an editorial on the weekend’s events regarding Salazar and the USATF but then thought it’d be far more interesting to let someone else do it. Someone else who has written a whole lot about it and has been in touch with many of the key players. That person is Jon Gugala, and you’ll find links to his various other pieces throughout his editorial. It’s a controversial subject that has sparked passionate debate, and we welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments below.

by Jon Gugala

So Alberto Salazar finally responded to my emails!

Over the weekend, from multiple accounts, the Nike Oregon Project coach was running around the 2014 USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., swearing near children and at spouses, coaches, and Lost Boys of Sudan. And each day, before I reported on these stories that paint the picture of a new low for a coach with a long history of striking out at critics like a stepped-on snake, I’ve trotted out my own form email to Salazar, something that sounds more tired each time I write it: “Hey. Buddy. What do you say about this?”

You could read the stories that I reported over the weekend and mistakenly conclude I’m trying to smear one of the best coaches, knowledge-wise, in the U.S. And I’ve worried about that, too, going through plenty of introspection on the subject.

Salazar Rupp BU full size

Salazar and Rupp confer at an indoor meet at BU back in 2013.

What I’ve come up with? Nah.

Not to say I don’t have hesitations. The most recent was yesterday. Twitter has been a constant source of activity over the weekend, and many people have followed me as these stories have developed. One of those, Maria Salazar, sounded familiar, and sure enough, it’s Salazar’s daughter.

Now I’m not saying that Salazar, with no personal account himself, has sent his daughter on Twitter Watch 2014 to monitor me and others who have added unflattering angles to the story arc of the weekend.

But I wouldn’t put it past him.

So after I’d interviewed a Lost Boy and both of the weekend’s DQs, I threw my Hail Mary. I had followed Maria Salazar, a ”Hey, I see you, too.” And since we both followed each other, I could send her a direct message.

It was, verbatim, “Could we speak over the phone? It would be off the record.”

At the time, I felt kind of guilty about it. Not that it was crossing ethical boundaries. Hers would be an interesting angle on the events of the weekend. But maybe contacting Salazar’s daughter was crossing my own moral boundaries. I mean, jeez, is nothing sacred? The guy’s obviously under a lot of stress, and now you’re reaching out to his family for comment?

Well, I don’t feel so bad about it anymore, especially since he’s already deployed his progeny on PR cleanup. Alex Salazar, whom I believe to be Alberto’s son, emailed LetsRun.com from a Nike email address about a story I wrote for them about a meeting between Alberto and Justin Grunewald, the spouse of the U.S. 3000-meters champion Gabe Grunewald who Alberto may have pulled strings to disqualify, in an elevator in the host hotel Marriott. In that email to LRC that only shows a rudimentary grasp on written English, Alex tries to refute that his father ever told Grunewald to “Get the f— out of my face.”

“I just ask you report the truth, not 2nd and 3rd hand stories that are tweeted and emailed to you by biased parties,” writes Alex Salazar, a Nike employee who was not in the elevator with Grunewald and Alberto (and is himself recounting what his father, days later, told him).

Well, within an hour of my DM to Maria, an editor from one of the websites I wrote for over the weekend contacted me, saying Salazar had called him asking why I was harassing his daughter. Despite my misgivings and my ability as a human to “take the role of the other,” I don’t regret it. I don’t regret offering the opportunity for adults, both Salazar and his daughter (and this morning, his son, Alex), to speak on their behalf and put out their viewpoint. I’ve been doing it all weekend, and Salazar’s been mum to not only me but even the Wall Street Journal, only speaking briefly and in a limited capacity to Ken Goe of the Oregonian.

I have been open about my own relationship with Salazar, about the 6 a.m. phone call I received after a story I wrote that wasn’t even about him referred to his tech-centric approach as “gimmicks”. In the spring of 2012, after another story I wrote that wasn’t even about him ran on Runner’s World, he wrote that same editor (note: these are two completely different publications now) to harp on the “gimmicks” comment again, how I’m obviously biased against him because I don’t jump on Chris Solinsky for using an AlterG to rehab his hamstring after it had pretty much ripped off from his pelvis.

So back then, 2012, I reached out to Salazar. “Hey. Buddy. Let’s hear your side.”

Paraphrased (not so loosely, since you don’t forget the ego dripping from these words), Salazar said he had no interest in he or any of his athletes speaking to me or any of my readers. And then a few months later, at the 2012 Stanford Invite, where Dathan Ritzenhein was mounting a comeback, after sitting down for a confirmed interview with me for Competitor Magazine, he backed out, saying he didn’t want to get mixed up in whatever was between me and his coach, Alberto Salazar.

Think what that means: an athlete actually turns down free PR in one of the most critical times in his career (keep in mind, this was an Olympic year) to please his coach. You are falling on your own sword for your coach. And that is why so many people are distrustful of Salazar and his athletes: the power.

Now, despite this history with Salazar, I still like the guy. In a world so fully lacking individuals with passion, who doesn’t admire someone so obsessed to be excellent at his chosen profession? I respect him for that.

The problem is not Salazar’s myopathy for his athletes’ success. The problem is that myopathy paired with too much power.

Because then, when you submit protests in consecutive races at a national championship that lead to rival teams’ athletes disqualified, and when USATF policy appears circumvented in pursuit of this end, then the worst-case scenario is realized.

USATF, in a statement for the reinstatement of Grunewald as national champ, said the initial DQ came from “enlarged, digital footage of the legs and feet of both athletes.” And that would be a fine excuse if you have no reading comprehension whatsoever. Here’s a question: Where did the footage come from? Was it new, or was it the same footage they’d already looked at? If it was new, who took it? If it was an enlargement, does that constitute new evidence, a requisite to reopen the case, after it was already ruled by the head official and then a three-person committee that there was no infraction? Did Salazar exert undue pressure on officials, whether with Nike’s tacit or explicit support, to get this case reopened (what Team USA Minn. coach Dennis Barker described to me as “hovering” after Salazar’s initial protest failed)?

And furthermore, if Salazar is only an “advocate for my athlete,” as he says, then was it Jordan Hasay withdrawing her protest or Salazar, the latter of whom filed it? Does ownership of said protest transfer to Hasay once Salazar files it? Did Hasay actually want to protest in the first place, or was it just Salazar knee-jerking before going on to an alleged verbal assault of at least one coach and one athlete?

If these seem like a lot of questions regarding something that’s supposed to provide those answers, I’ll say it’s a shame the USATF statement isn’t in print. At least then it would have a practical purpose the next time I step in dog shit.

God, Salazar, everyone already thought you were an asshole, but thanks to a new horizon of your asshole-ishness this weekend that everyone saw, you have good reason to keep your dumb trap shut. Just don’t send your kids after me, if they are so sacred to warrant a phone call to an editor after ignoring my emails.

That editor asked me, maybe too honestly, “Do you still want relationships with these people [i.e. Salazar] after this is all over?”

Sure. Yes. But not in this same context, where all us journalists are bugs waiting for Salazar to drop a crumb of access to his stable of the leading track and field athletes in the world. Nope. I’m fine with this relationship, as it stands, to end so that something else can develop in its place.

In the meantime, I’ll just write about everyone else.

Over the course of the weekend, I have received so much support by the running community. Acquaintances higher up in the food chain have reached out in encouragement. They are amazed that even one person can speak out, or empower others’ voices to speak out, against a coach that has wielded his power and influence like a bludgeon. Nike employees. Coaches. Athletes. Former athletes of Salazar’s. Media, from running blogs all the way to publications that cover Big Four sports.

They are all united by a love of the sport of running, and their collective voice has moved a governing body to quit dicking around with athletes’ careers. It’s their collective voice, not just mine, that has decried Alberto Salazar because, like that Kanye West song, no one man should have all that power.

7 comments on “Alberto Salazar: No One Man Should Have All That Power

  1. Marty says:

    ” I still like the guy”…oh really….after your rudimentary grasp of the written word proclaims that you are
    not a journalist but a biased asshole…and a hypocrite

  2. David Kornacker says:

    I greatly appreciate all the reporting you’ve done over the past week but I don’t agree with your conclusion that Salazar has too much power. I think what we saw demonstrated is that Gabriele Grunewald’s agent Paul Doyle [who also represents Ashton Eaton, among others] has more sway with Nike than Salazar does. That Nike flyknit commercial that kept running during the meet kind of says it all - Eaton is the star of the commercial, Hasay appears very briefly, no other Salazar athlete [that I noticed, anyway] appears at all.

    What troubles me is how weak the USATF continues to be. Yes, Nike directly and indirectly contributes a very large fraction of their budget so the USATF certainly needs Nike, but Nike also very much wants T&F athletes to be in Nike uniforms every 4 years at the Olympics so the relationship could be more of a 2-way street.

    It also troubles me that if Grunewald were repped by some 2nd-tier agent who didn’t also represent major Nike athletes, I strongly believe the DQ would have stood.

  3. David says:

    Thank you for not letting this go by the wayside. Al Salazar is completely out of control at this point and should not get a free pass because of his stature in the Nike Family. His behavior at the National Meet was reprehensible and cowardly as he let Jordan Hasay take the heat for his actions and has not once made a statement that indicates he believes he was at all complicit.

    A Coach

  4. Josh says:

    Thanks Jon for bringing this to light. Unlike you I dont like (or maybe we have different definitions of the word like) AlSal. He is a great coach but an egomaniac willing to bend too many rules (thyroid meds, etc) and use his power in unjust ways.

  5. Elias says:

    He doesn’t have as much power as you think - the drama queen like reactions of social media and a certain website make it seem like he has more.

    For a 55 year old man, a former star runner, who’s been in the sport or worked in it for nearly 4 DECADES, he ought to know everyone and be well connected, and that is the case here.

    Again, social media, blogging, a sport full of underpaid, insecure athletes (the sport is dying, cutbacks have been happening in athletes not having contracts renewed) this tempest in a teapot has been over played.

    However if it succeeds in getting USATF blown up, great, let’s just allow our own heads to be cooler and not demonize Mr. Salazar.

    Thanks,

    E.

  6. Guy says:

    When a story from the husband of the DQ’d athlete is evidence of anything, there is tremendous bias on that front. Alberto has his flaws like all of these athletes and coaches do. Your opinion is your opinion and obviously you have the right to express it. So many assumptions from so many angles and each angle is from a different perspective. The weekend brought to a head many issues about sport, competition, athletes, coaches, governing bodies, money, politics, ‘journalism,’ and the power of all of that put together. It has been an interesting set of events that has exposed many things and will lead to greater clarity and integrity (i..e, not morals, which are nothing but b.s.). I do know this: the accused deserves the right to defend himself and does not have to do it on anyone’s timetable, especially not a ‘journalist’s’ timetable.

  7. Kevin says:

    Guy- The guy does certainly have a right to defend himself but if he chooses to wait and do it on his own terms he cannot be upset with the way the story come out when the Journalist is using the stories from the people that are willing to talk and tell their side.

    I do think that this whole thing will cause things to be done differently next time whether it means AlSal isn’t allowed to pressure and overly influence the outcome or that it is done less overtly. Lets hope is is the former and not the latter.

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