Beyond #LetNickRun

by EJN Comments (0) Articles, Commentary

Some interesting/disheartening/downright shitty news coming from USATF (but what else is new?). For those who haven’t heard, Nick Symmonds has been dropped from Team USA for the upcoming World Championships because he wouldn’t sign Nike’s USATF’s ‘Statement of Conditions’. There’s a ton out there, but some great/informative pieces to check out are (links followed by an excerpt from each):

The Symmonds Dilemma by Toni Reavis

“But until the athletes of track & field truly unite and collectively bargaining, they will have no one to blame but themselves for continuing to be treated if not as serfs, as they were for decades, then simply as independent contractors where any one protestor among them can be easily replaced, as Max Siegel has warned Nick Symmonds of being for Beijing 2015.”

The Inside Lane: How Bad Do You Want It? by Mario Fraioli

“The problem is here is that Nick Symmonds is one athlete. A major hurdle in the effort to instigate change of any sort in track and field is that it’s a sport full of independent contractors with no established athletes’ union looking out for everyone’s best interests. Aside from a relatively small handful of successful athletes such as Symmonds who have been able to enjoy a prosperous career through a combination of world-class results, shrewd negotiating and smart marketing, it’s a tough climate in which to make a living as a “professional,” and at the end of the day almost everyone ends up looking out for their own best interests.”

Nick Symmonds Says USA Track & Field Exploits Patriotism For Profit

This is my job. This is not a hobby for me. This is a career. This is what I do for a living. My business is Nick Symmonds LLC, and I’m the CEO of that business. And yes, there’s a patriotic aspect to this. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to remember that this is a job, and I have responsibility as a business owner to make sure that I am compensated for my work.

Why I Decided Not to Sign USA Track & Field’s ‘Statement of Conditions’

In my opinion, the 8 percent that USATF pays out to its athletes is insultingly low in comparison to what other sports pay out to their athletes.

It’s also interesting to note that Zimbalist points out that the USATF has an “accounting inconsistency” that seems to show that at least $3.52 million of its funds are missing. Where did this money go?

Athletes rights attorney says USA Track & Field is wrong in the Nick Symmonds case

Hogshead-Makar said this isn’t a gray area.

“It’s a done deal,” she said. “National governing bodies can’t do that. They can’t tell athletes what to wear when they’re having coffee in the hotel. Period. They can’t do that unless they have paid the athletes to endorse that particular product. …

Nick Symmonds vs. USA Track and Field is far bigger than just one runner

Nick Symmonds asked. To argue about how he should have asked, or in what forum, is missing the point. There’s no ambiguity in the wrongheadedness of telling somebody what to put in his or her own suitcase or the common sense in standing up to say so. Track and field has a problem. People are talking about it. One small step.

Statement from USATF regarding Nick Symmonds. Attribution to Chief Public Affairs Officer Jill Geer

The only restriction USATF places on athletes’ apparel or appearance at any time is when they represent the United States in National Team competitions, award ceremonies, official Team press conferences, and other official Team functions tied to these National Team events. USATF places no restrictions on athlete footwear, eyewear or watches. As part of USATF’s bylaws, the Statement of Conditions must be signed by all athletes who compete for Team USA, and it cannot be unilaterally changed or waived by any USATF officer.

USATF statement and data on elite athlete spending

USATF in 2015 anticipates that we will spend roughly 50 percent of our $30 million budget, or more than $15 million, on a combination of cash directly to athletes, USATF payment of athlete costs and High Performance Programs that support elite athletes.

A few thoughts on this…

Starting with the last item, the USATF data, it’s interesting that that is how they choose to present their side. Including an expense to broadcast events as an athlete benefit is ridiculous. It’s an embarrassment that they have to pay to do that instead of making money off of it. So they’re spinning the failure of Max et al to profit off of event broadcasting into some phantom benefit for the athletes. Now a point was raised over social media comments that any broadcasting failures shouldn’t be blamed on Max because he inherited it. Fine. But it doesn’t matter if the expense preceded Max when they’re still currently touting that lack of broadcasting revenue as an athlete benefit. In doing so they’re willing to claim responsibility for it under the guise of a benefit. They should stop doing that. That would be one less point of contention here.

Do other pro athletes accept less because the owners decide to build stadiums? Absolutely not. Granted the economics of the major sports are vastly different compared to that of track & field athletes, but in either case money not going more directly to an athlete shouldn’t be counted as an athlete benefit.

Of course the other major sports have strong athlete unions, which Symmonds can’t do this alone. Others need to stand with him or the USATF is just going to try their hardest to bury him. There are some out there that would chastise athletes for taking this stand, painting it as a ‘bite the hand that feeds’ type of situation. The athletes do deserve some criticism here, but not for speaking up. They shouldn’t be let off the hook because they haven’t taken it far enough. Going back to Mario’s article:

To this point, with the exception of Nick Symmonds, the answer has clearly been “no.” Words in the form of social media posts, petitions and the like aren’t going to generate enough noise to force the changes that will allow everyone—not just the best athletes—to thrive and make a living in the sport. More athletes need to follow in Symmonds’ footsteps and take bold action if they want to see change for everyone. Otherwise, it’s all just a bunch of background noise.

Couldn’t agree with that more. If more athletes don’t take bolder steps (standing with Nick would be a great start) then there’s just going to be more grief down the road. Sure, small victories will be won here and there, but ultimately they’ll still be on the losing end. And why should USATF cave? If it’s business, then they’re proving to be better at it than their counterparts here. Not to say it’s right, but they haven’t been put into a position where they have to change, so it’s unlikely that they will unfortunately.

Think of it this way…Were you ever tormented by an older brother, or cousin? Someone who would pin you down and basically use your own hands to hit yourself in the head while saying ‘quit hitting yourself! quit hitting yourself!’ Well, whether you experienced it in real life or have only seen it on TV, it seems appropriate for this sitatuion. USATF is the older bully, and the athletes are the ones being pinned down, forced to hit themselves over and over. Until they form a union, there’s good chance they’ll just keep ‘hitting themselves’.

Now you may be saying ‘TFAA is their’ union, but it seems fairly toothless so far. What have they done? What are they doing now to support Nick? Bold steps are needed! No one is suggesting that any of this would be easy, not at all. But it’s much easier than it would’ve been to do it 20-30 years ago. The other professional athletes have paved the way, maybe even provided some sort of template to follow.

At the end of the day, Nike and the USATF shouldn’t be able to dictate how people dress outside of press conferences and competition. If a Brooks athlete can’t wear Brooks gear while having coffee at his hotel then where’s the value for Brooks? National pride isn’t an excuse to support one brand. National pride shouldn’t even be brought into the conversation because we’re not in the 1950’s anymore. The Olympics (and international competition) is big business and everybody seems to be profiting in it, except for the athletes. The ones performing are getting the smallest cut of the pie.

USATF shouldn’t be able to hide behind their bylaws as an excuse to not fix any problems, either. It seems like whenever something controversial pops up, they throw their hands in the air and say ‘hey, we can’t do anything to fix it now because of the bylaws’. They need to come up with a way to address that in a more timely fashion.

It all goes back to the union (or lack thereof). The athletes need to step up and back Nick with more than just words. As far the rest of us, it’s hard to say what we can do. There’s this petition that was recently started…

It’s great to see that, but until that athletes come together it’s hard to say how much of an impact anything will have.

We don’t pretend to have any answers here. We don’t know enough of the inner workings of USATF, but that doesn’t mean we (or anybody else) should keep quiet. Not speaking up ensures nothing changes. If enough of us make some noise, maybe we’ll see some change.

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