WHEN THE SPORT REALLY WORKS

A couple of weekends ago I was in Kingston, Jamaica for the Jamaica International Invitational. It was a very interesting and rewarding event to attend for me, not because athletes I coach did well, but because of the positive spirit and upbeat ambiance that permeated the whole country and culture. It is more than eveident that the Usain Bolt phenonemon and phenomnena have imbued the country with a new sense of pride and self-confidence. The people walk and talk with a special muted swagger. The tempo and temperment of the country is more brisk and boistrous. This is a far cry from the kind of atmoshere and ambiance I felt in prior visits to the island prior to Bolt.
Sport,…when it really works, does more than entertain. It provides people with an identity and cause for celebration and coalescence around, and for, something positive and hopefully pure. Bolt, and the manner in which he connects with his people, brings a pure quality of unfiltered joy and pride to his country of two million people. He does this because it is obvious that he takes pride and great joy from what he is doing, and is willing to generously share this with his people. This is a very unusual phenomenon.. As we have discussed in earlier efforts, athletes who perform at the outer limits of human performance, have extreme needs and are rampantly self-centered and “me” focused. Sharing, real and honest, is the very last thing they seek to do. Willingly sharing is rare and a difficult thing for them to do. Self-indulgence and self-absorption is the order of the day and builds barriers to true and pure sharing. Bolt somehow seems to have escaped, at least for the time being, getting too caught up in “self” to the exclusion of other things, people, and values. When he ran at the Penn Relays he did so because track and field agent ( not Bolt’s agent however ), Cubie Seegobin, and his coach Glenn Mills, discussed with Usain about the merits of his giving something back,……for free, to his fans at the Penn Relays. ( keep in mind that everyone but Seegobin and Mills were given credit for getting Bolt to Philly for free ). Usain needed no convincing or special urging to do this. Bear in mind that he has been offered upwards of $500,000.00 as an appearance fee, and it is generally understood that he gets $250,000.00 appearance fee on average. The obvious retort is, “Making that kind of money, he can afford to run for free.”.. That is the logic of a person trying to apply simple-minded logic and arithmetic to psychological mathematics they simply do not understand. The more these people are in demand and indulged, the more perks they get, the more they feel “entitled” to the the dollars and rewards they get. Doing something for free for many in this circumstance is “going back” to the scary and scarce days when they were struggling and hoping for recognition, love and acceptance, so to do something “free” brings back all the heartache and hurt from those early days in their career.
Bottom line, for whatever reason, Bolt seems to have escaped this and it is felt by a very sophisticated fan base in Jamaica. The culture of Jamaica is one of intense competition. The people there are very aggressive and “pushy” at almost all levels. They are a people and country where most of the people there make their living by their wits, natural intelligence and innate wisdom. This being the case, they can smell a phony a mile away. They are not easily taken in because they approch each day with a certain paranoia and suspicion because they are also aware that Jamaica in so many ways,… is paradise lost. Given the weather, the productivity of the land, the location, and basic intelligence and creativity of the people, it is obvious that Jamaica and Jamaicans should enjoy a way of life far superior to what is currently the case. They know instinctively that something has been unfairly taken from them and they approach each other with some suspicion and qualms because the next person might be one of the reasons why they are being cheated of the elevated lifestyle  and gifts that the natural resources of the country should easily provide.
So for Bolt to be able to impact his country in the manor he does, speaks volumes to what the people there see in him based upon their collective insight and wisdom, and reluctance to trust easily. They have experienced and dealt with all manner of phoniness and cheats, they know the real thing when they see it.  In doing what he does, Bolt represents the good thing(s) that can come from sport that is working right.
Contrast that to what is currently going on within the inner sanctum of  USA Track and Field, and the suspicion and distrust they have engendered among U.S. elite track and field athletes, and you will see the direct opposite of what Bolt has going in Jamaica. Take the recent Penn Relays. Allyson Felix has been running the second leg for the 4 x 100 and since 2004. Allyson Felix is one of the true princesses of the sport of track and field and everyone within the sport knows and understands that.. She has been a quiet, but positive force in the sport since 2003. She has never insisted on special attention or treatment. At the Penn Relays the decision was made by the new high performance team, without ever consulting Allyson, that Sanya Richards was going to run 2nd leg on the “A” 4 x 100 and Felix was going to run 3rd. This despite the fact that they were advised about the history behind Felix’s running the 2nd leg over all these years. When Felix informed the high performance people that she had never run 3rd and did not see the reason for running 3rd, the high performance people had to beat a hasty retreat . Sanya made it known that she did not mind running 3rd and until she got hurt in working on the handoffs, that would have been her leg to run. But the confusion and consternation never should have arisen in the first place. Given the lack of time to work on handoffs, the less fiddling around with positions the better. All the leadoff people for years have been working with Allyson and there was/is a known and experienced connection there.
But this is really just  a small manifestation and fallout of something of even greater concern and consternation of elite American track and field athletes. They have lost total and complete confidence and trust in the new administration both from a manner and matter perspective. They feel the new people in their manner are too high handed and tyranical in their handling of decisions and decision-making processes regarding elite athletes. Further, big dollars that were specifically earmarked for use and control by elite athletes were matter-of-factly rolled over into the general fund category of the USATF budget and out from the control of athletes. When questioned about this arbitrary re-allocation of athletes’ funds, they were advised by CEO, Doug Logan, ” This is the way I do things.”.  WOW !!!!
In order to really get a handle on why elite athletes have such strong legitimate suspicions and distrust of the current adminsitration, there are several things that you must keep in mind.
1. Without athletes there would absolutely be no need for a federarion. So the federation exists only because athletes exist. The athletes CAME first and rightfully should BE first !!!!
2. The federation then, exists to serve and protect the best interests of the athletes. Unfortunately we have what I have termed, Corporate Role Reversal. Instead of the federation ( corporation ) existing to serve and protect the interests of athletes, it is now insisting that the athletes are to benignly sit by and allow the federation to take all their rights and privileges, some that are guaranteed by federal laws and the federation enabling constitution. Instead of the federation ( corporation ) existing to serve the athlet
es, it is now expected that athletes exist to serve and protect the federation.
3. The USA Track and Field Governance Handbook, in outlining the duties of the federation and its adminIstration under article: 220524 – GENERAL DUTIES OF NATIONAL GOVERNING BODIES ( USATF ) Item # 3, they are mandated to: ” KEEP _ ATHLETES INFORMED OF POLICY MATTERS AND REASONABLY  REFLECT  THE  VIEWS OF ATHLETES IN ITS POLICY DECISIONS;”.
The obvious and unerring conclusion from this unambiguous language is the fact that the CEO could not unilaterally take money earmarked and desginated for athletes and roll it into the general fund where he, as opposed to them, would have control over its use and application(s). Further, if you read the language and intent of this passage, it is all too clear that decisions should be made that ” ….reasonably reflect the views of the athletes…” To my knowledge no athlete, with the power to approve and condone the removal of earmaked athletes’ funds, ever consented to this overreaching and illegal action.
You may have heard about the great fund of money ( one million dollars ), that USATF was going to get from NIKE to help athletes improve performances and better the U.S. chances for 30 medals in 2012, at this date, not a penny of that one million dollars, that NIKE has approved, has been seen by any athlete and here we are 10 months or so after the announcement. So not only is money within the organization being taken from athletes, money that has been ballyhooed as in the works for athletes has not been seen by athletes either.
It was a very long time ago, but once when I was attending business school at the University of Chicago, a very sage thing was explained to us. ” If you really want to understand what a company stands for, forget about the mission statement, observe how they allocate and treat their precious resources.”. For USATF their most precious resources are athletes,… after all without them they would not even exist. However, the athlets are treated like immature and mindless children, despite the fact that most are college grads, many attended school and have degrees superior to those who are supposedly “attending” to athletes’ needs.  The next most precious resource is money, especially that earmarked for the most precious resource,…athletes. The record here is one of unethical and inept treatement  administration in the extreme.
So unlike the positive spirit of upbeat oneness Bolt enjoys with his fan base and constituency in Jamaica,…..and that is a very good thing, there is no such feeling of reciprocal respect and trust between USATF and its most important constituency,…….ATHLETES !!!!!
Stay tuned for more on how the current USATF leadership and adminsitration is going to drive the federation into ethical, fiduciary and fiscal bankruptcy.
Brooks T. Johnson
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One Response to “WHEN THE SPORT REALLY WORKS”

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