USAT&F – U.S. Athletes – Tricks and Fraud ?

Early this spring a group of European athletes were training with us at ESPN’s WIDE WORLD of SPORTS COMPLEX at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. We are only a 45 minute flight from Nassau, Bahamas and the IAAF World Relay Championships, so quite a few European teams took advantage of the good weather and proximity to Nassau to come over early to prepare for the event. One day, one of the foreign athletes was wearing a shirt with the letters – USATF – emboldened across the front . One of the other athletes asked me what those letters meant and I replied. U.S. Athletes- Tricks and Fraud. The wearer of the short angrily retorted, “NO ! It stands for U.S.A. Track and Field. I know because I traded with an American athlete for this shirt in Moscow last summer.” To which I replied, That is YOUR version,… but in fact USATF, REALLY stands for things much different from what you and a lot of other people think.

I have held very strong sentiments and feelings about the current administration and management leadership cadre of USATF for some time. But for reasons I may get into later, I refused to voice my extreme disappointment and disgust at what was going on, especially as it relates to the shoddy treatment given to athletes and volunteers that actually make the organization go.

Recently I read the obituary(New York Times- May 22) of black historian,  Dr Vincent Harding. Unknown to many of us, because he chose to stay in the background, Dr Harding was an aggressive activist for civil rights and was  close to the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. He wrote one of  Dr King’s speeches, which was described in 2007 by the progressive Christian magazine, SOJOURNERS as “…one of the most important speeches in American history”  This speech concerned Dr King’s alienation and disgust for the Viet Nam War. The speech was delivered at the Riverside Church in Manhattan, New York, on April 4, 1967. The the compelling words and thoughts from that speech that are germane here are, ” A time comes when silence is betrayal,…” The speech was entitled, ” A Time to Break Silence “. It set off a firestorm of negative reaction against Dr King’s position, with even the National Association of Colored People ( NAACP ) taking exception, labeling it, ” A serious tactical error ” LIFE Magazine called it , “..a demagogic slander….”

Every since I have been active in this sport, whether as an athlete or coach, I have prided myself as being an activist and advocate for athletes. What I have witnessed over the past couple of quadrenniums, as it relates to track and field athletes in general, and even more specifically to American track and field athletes is simply appalling and totally unacceptable. On just about every turn of the wheel, the fortunes and interests of the American athlete in the sport has been exploited, defrauded and tricked, and a great deal of this can be traced back to the overall ineptitude and self- power enhancement objectives of the recent leadership clique over the interests of athletes.

Let us start with the most basic and factual  history we can muster and share. Stay with me because it gets a bit obtuse, but in fact is very relevant. In 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt called college presidents from all over the country to Washington, D.C. . The reason he did this was because the sport of college football was so dangerous and violent, that serious injuries were common, and the possibility of deaths was a real concern and issue. From this meeting emerged the National Collegiate Athletics Association ( NCAA ).  The NCAA was borne out of a concern and serious caring for the welfare and well being of athletes. What it stands for now barely even echoes a scintilla of these original sentiments. The various lawsuits the NCAA is facing and the grudging need for reform that even it recognizes for change along more compassionate lines for athletes , will bear witness to the above.

If we look back at the Amateur Sports Act of 1979 ( Senator Ted Stevens Act ), we see a similar intent by people in Washington, D.C. to bring some sanity and sanctity to protect the rights and privileges of athletes. The United States Olympic Committee and its track and field surrogate, USATF, are charged with protecting and projecting the rights and privileges of athletes in such a manner as to allow them the maximum opportunity to develop their ability and represent the U.S. in international competition. The one compelling fact that needs to be front and center at all times, that often gets lost in the various shuffles, scuffles, and schemes. is that without the presence of athletes, there is NO need for USATF or the USOC. They exist because athletes are willing to give blood, sweat, and tears to excel in their sport(s). Let me repeat – without athletes, there is NO need for the mere existence of these sports governing bodies !

Despite the fact that the welfare of athletes always precede the need for the existence of governing bodies, and despite the fact that the only and all consuming rationale for the existence of  these sports governing bodies is to serve the needs and requirements of athletes, we invariably see just the opposite taking place. It is what I term CORPORATE ROLE REVERSAL . At the outset of this phenomenon the organization is established to serve and meet the needs and requirements of it constituency, in this case,…. athletes. But before you can spell c-a-t the roles are reversed. The organization and its leadership expects, even demands, that the constituency serves what the leadership sees as its own needs and requirements.

That is exactly the position that the NCAA finds itself and the same applies in spades to USATF ! As things stand now USATF is at an all time nadir in terms of the management and administration focus being totally misplaced and abused. Since 2004 there has been a concerted effort to bring the governance of USATF under a more “centralized” form with more power and authority coalesced and centered in the national office. Now just for one minute consider the following. In 2008 USATF brought on a new CEO with an avowed and manic desire to bring more power to the CEO’s position and the national office he ran. After two years of ineptitude, pathetic posturing and serious inroads into athletes’ benefits and rights, along with the curtailing of the governance roles of the grass root volunteer cadre , we brought on a another CEO. Guess what these last two CEOs had in common ?  Neither one had any previous track and field experience of any consequence or significance. On the Thursday conference call stage managed by the previous president of USATF, Doug Logan actually bragged about the fact that he had absolutely no knowledge or background about track and field and the tone he emitted let one think he thought of that as a badge of pride, and perhaps honor. If the newest CEO, Logan’s successor, were honest, he would have to mouth the same lack of knowledge.  Now I want you picture this. At a time when there is a concerted and orchestrated effort to void the influence of athletes, and cut volunteers and grass roots people out of governance and influence, we  have two CEOs in rampant and rapid succession whose greatest and most outstanding job qualification and  characteristic is,… neither one knows the sport !

One of the first things Logan does  is to take a $500,000.00 budget item ear-marked and contracted for control by athletes, and brings it under the overall budget structure that he controls. When asked why he did such a thing, his flippant answer was, “I  do business that way.”. This is the kind of arrogant disregard for athletes manifested in ” how he did business” , to the near total exclusion of concern for  the rights and protection of athletes,…. and  that is still the prevailing attitude in Indianapolis.

At just about every turn, there are examples of the shrinking recognition of the financial needs of athletes. Even the NCAA has a Hardship Fund for athletes who have an emergency situation and need some  fiscal help to address the emergency. USATF used to have one as well, but Logan took that away and despite several attempts through the Athletes Advisory Committee to get this type of funding re-installed, to date and after 6 years, no such fund exists. Recently the Long Distance Runners  of USATF athletes voted to have the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas, the site of previous Olympic trials. One of the extra attractions for Houston, other than previously hosting successful trials, was a healthy financial package ear-marked for athletes. The national office vetoed that choice and selected Los Angeles over the athletes’ choice,…. WITHOUT the financial package for athletes in place !  Going into 2008 every member in the relay pool was awarded a base stipend of $1,000.00. Not much, but at least a nod of appreciation for the participation. With Logan as CEO this number fell to $500.00.

The end game of this exercise is to demonstrate how athletes and others have been tricked and athletes have essentially been defrauded because the national office and the USATF leaderhsip, president and board, have basically abdicated their fiduciary and fidelity responsibility to serve the needs of athletes,…. the constituency they are supposed to serve and protect !  By the very end, we will have covered a multitude of egregious errors and omissions by those who should know better,….. and act accordingly. Excuse me for the time being I have to rush off to practice. However, I expect to return later to substantiate and elaborate on the charges I have made. It is time to Break the Silence !

Thanks.

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

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