GETTING IT OUT THERE

What was perhaps inevitable, is finally working itself up to a head within USA Track and Field . It actually started back before  2008 when Bill Roe, the then president of USA Track and Field, caved in to the United States Olympic Committee’s  demands concerning a “reorganization”. When Bill Roe, Stephanie Hightower( current president of USATF), John Chaplin and I met with the president of the USOC ,  he made it perfectly clear that the threat of de-certification that the USOC ,CEO,and his leadership team, held over our head was basically bogus and groundless since USATF had not committed any de-certifiable offenses. But despite this fact, Bill Roe orchestrated a process than saddled  USATF with a “reorganization” that included a non-representative and shrunken board,……and Doug Logan !

Much of the above was motivated by people who felt they “were the smartest people in the room”. As such they did not trust the governance process to have too much involvement and input from the ignorant and unwashed people that come from the grass roots and volunteer sectors. Athletes were trusted even less.    It was the old game of CORPORATE ROLE REVERSAL. When the leadership of an organization that is established exclusively to support, serve and service the needs of its constituent group, then reverses the roles and expects, and in some instances demand, that the constituency group in fact abdicate their rights and voices and serve the greed and gains of  the leadership clique, then that is CORPORATE ROLE REVERSAL. And that is exactly what is unfolding right in front of us as The president of USATF(Stephanie Hightower), the CEO of USATF, (Max Seigle), along with selected members of the board are currently proposing legislative and by-laws changes that would place almost total power and authority in the hands of people with very suspect motives and  performance records and conduct.

Before we go further, let us understand and state that without athletes there would absolutely be NO need or rationale  for USATF to exist,….. at all. Without athletes performances there would be a greatly reduced interest on the part of sponsors to even become affiliated with USATF. Athletes, and their performances,  are most closely and effectively supported by coaches, officials, and volunteers who address their immediate needs and requirements that drive performances. Given that, it would logically follow that athletes, and the people who most closely work with them for their best interest, would get priority treatment in the overall USATF hierarchy,….. in point of fact, just the opposite is the case and the newly proposed legislative end run is designed to reduce even further  the influence and involvement that athletes and the volunteer cadre have in the decisions that most intimately impact them.

So how is it we have an organization that puts its most critical constituencies in a second class and subservient status and is now seeking to tighten that strangle hold even more  ? This occurs because of the megalomania and greed of the leadership clique and their desire to perpetuate themselves in power and authority to further their own personal career goals and objectives,…. at the cost, exploitation and exclusion of the very people they profess to serve and support.

Let’s start at the very top. When Stephanie Hightower was elected president of USATF, she vehemently fought off Doug Logan’s effort to prevent her from chairing the board. The reason was obvious, Doug wanted to chair the board because the chair sets the agenda and basically can overly influence the direction that board moves, especially with the new smaller board and so many people from outside the inner sanctum of the sport serving on the board. Stephanie obviously was aware that without chairing the board, her position was merely a figurehead. Now that she can not repeat as president, and therefore be board chair, she is supporting the proposition that the chair of the board be elected from the board itself, rather than being the president, who is elected by the delegate assembly as their representative. She has stated to interested parties that she has the votes on the board itself to get elected its chair. The sticky issue to get a position on the board itself outside the presidency. The IAAF representative, in this case Bob Hersh(who is also senior vice president of the IAAF as a result of his many years of  outstanding work resulting in his seniority) is by virtue of being the IAAF rep is automatically on the board. This position has been elected from the delegate assembly in the past and if it were to be the same again, Hersh would surely win. However, there is a Hightower supported proposal that this time around the board elect the IAAF representative, giving Hightower a slam dunk to replace Bob as the IAAF representative, costing us the second highest ranking member of the IAAF and the influence and USATF benefits that derive from that position. If she replaces Hersh, then she can count on her votes on the board to be elected chair and carry on her personal agenda of power and authority.

Why would Hightower be a seriously flawed candidate to continue on as chair of the board of USATF ? The basic and simple reason is the fact that her interests do not rest primarily with athletes and their primary supporters. There are many instances and examples to sustain this charge. She was chair of the board when Doug Logan received a raise, within months before he was fired. He got the raise despite the fact that she was aware of serious and reliable negative assertions about him and at least one athlete. In 2011, at the national championships in Eugene, Oregon, she was called into a meeting of athletes so we could get some closure on an issue regarding whether or not the meet director at the London Diamond League could prevent Justin Gatlin from running on the U.S. men’s 4 x 100 relay at the meet. I explained to her that the British federation, that ultimately sanctioned the meet, by IAAF rules, could not have more restrictive constraints on an athlete’s eligibility than the IAAF. Since the IAAF had cleared Gatlin to run, then the British federation had no choice but to allow him to run. Further, I made the point that no foreign meet director  should tell the U.S. what the composition of our team should or should not be. She countered that the meet was being sponsored by “big business” and we had to comply with their wishes because they were paying the freight. I pointed out that this particular meet had radically reduced the appearance and prize money for athletes, despite doubling the attendance figures at the meet. I stated that I thought her position as president of USATF should require her to be an advocate for the rights of U.S.athletes on one hand,  and do everything possible to increase their fiscal benefits and rewards on the other hand. Her position then was that I was off topic by introducing the money issue into the discussion after she had stated the reason we should violate Gatlin’s right was because “big business” was too much money for us to fight.  She stuck to her position that the meet director could prevent Gatlin from running on the U.S. relay.  The athletes showed their displeasure with her position by voting unanimously to boycott the relays as a U.S. team In London that year.

In just about every public pronouncement made by Hightower, she strategically  drops the terms, “fiduciary responsibility” and “transparency”. Let’s make sure we are in basic agreement that the first and foremost responsibility – fiduciary or otherwise -that USATF has is to the athletes constituency  it is supposed to support, serve and service. When Logan took over as CEO, one of his first acts was to transfer $500,000.00 that was contracted to athletes away from them, and  back into the general fund. The rationale he arrogantly  gave at the time was , “I don’t do business that way.”.  The athletes protested and finally were able to get the leadership clique to admit they had been fiddled out of their contracted money, and there was a settlement visited on the athletes of $300,000.00 or 60% of what was legitimately owed to them. Since then we have heard of all sorts of “new money” coming into USATF but no one has seen fit to make the athletes whole again on the balance of the money that was misappropriated from them. Speaking of “new money”, to date there are no known proposals that would see athletes substantially impacted positively with this new fiduciary windfall. As Nick Symonds recently stated, we have a CEO who is making more than 1.2 million dollars –money raised off the backs of athletes and their performances — yet most of the U.S. athletes are surviving below the poverty line. Where,and to whom, is the fiduciary responsibility being directed under the president’s lofty and often stated claims in this areas ? The president speaks about transparency, and in a conference call with the executive committee of youth athletes, she talked about transparency, despite the fact that she was aware that the national office, without the knowledge and/or consultation with the youth committee charged with awarding the bid for the National Junior Olympics, the national office  changed the terms of the bid package without proper vetting with the committee in question. The results were no takers for the new national office bid package and in the end the original bid package from the proper youth committee was reinstated and bids were immediate. I have been advised by the chair of Athletes Advisory that for more than a year, Athletes Advisory board members have been told by the board chair,  not to share board activity with their constituent  group and especially the chair himself. Where is the transparency factor in that ?  What about transparency and fiduciary responsibility when the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, originally awarded  by LDR to Houston with a prize package of $100,000.00, was abruptly switched through the national office to another site, and as yet there is no prize money settled on the new marathon trials site.

In mentioning Nick Symonds above, I am made to recall what has to be an alarmingly embarrassing and disqualifying incident at the World Championships in Moscow in 2013. Earlier Hightower had made a vow that every athlete that medaled  in Moscow  would have to have  a shot of vodka with her. Nick was having dinner after his medal race with his parents,who  both are administrators and professional people from the Great Northwest,….so you can imagine the awkwardness when Stephanie interrupted their meal trying to make good on her promise.

Bottom line, there should be intense resistance to the new by-laws that seek to limit access and authority to decision making in USATF to a few people who work in the national office and serve on the board. What is being proposed would take ultimate authority from the general assembly and place it in the hands of an ambitious few.  In the first instance, it is simply very bad from a governance perspective,…… if we subscribe to democratic processes as being the best way to govern and serve. Secondly, the people who would inherit this virtual strangle hold on power have not shown even scant evidence and intent that have anything but their own self-aggrandizement and greed uppermost. Thirdly, the new proposals would reverse and pervert the mission and mandate that USATF was established to implement.

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