Running in the 'Meda: Runner dropped over sponsor flap

Running in the 'Meda: Runner dropped over sponsor flap

Marty Beene

There's an interesting conflict going on right now in the professional running world, one that none of us "regular people" will likely ever be involved in. Nick Symmonds, arguably the best 800-meter runner in the United States (and a Beer Mile enthusiast), has been left off of the U.S. team heading to Beijing for the upcoming World Track & Field Championships.

Symmonds is currently sponsored by Brooks (and used to be sponsored by Nike). Our national team is sponsored by Nike, who will be paying USA Track & Field $20 million per year for 20 years. The specific reason Symmonds was left off the team is that he refused to sign a document agreeing to wear either Nike or unbranded apparel for the entire time he was on the trip to Beijing (other than, presumably, when he was alone in his hotel room, although the athletes were advised to not pack anything but Nike or unbranded apparel, so maybe it does cover pajamas?).

The argument Symmonds makes - and I admit that I may not fully understand all of the issues - is that, since he is not being paid by Nike, he should not be required to wear Nike apparel when he's not actually competing. He wants to be able to practice in clothing he's comfortable wearing, have coffee at the hotel in whatever he would like to wear, and so on. Symmonds points out that USA Track & Field isn't paying anyone much of anything, claiming that only about 8 percent of their budget goes to paying athletes, which is far lower than the industry standard for a sports governing body.

Symmonds is not specifically objecting to having to wear the USA uniform that is prominently adorned with the Nike logo - only to the out-of-competition requirements. You may have heard about the women's 4 x 1500-meter relay team that competed at the World Relays Championships in May of 2014. A photo of the team after the race was doctored to replace the Nike logos on three of the athletes with their individual sponsors' logos. Nike was not happy. But Symmonds' argument doesn't take the issue that far.

Interestingly, Symmonds refused to sign this same document a few months ago when competing at the World Indoor Track Championships, but USA Track & Field let him compete anyway. Indeed, one of Symmonds' points is that he satisfied all of the published requirements to make the team, but signing this document was never noted as something he would have to do to be on the team. Cue the attorneys lining up to argue this one.

Let me know what you think about all of this in the comments.

By the time you read this, the first week of my strength class for people over 40 ("pre-seniors" and "seniors") will be complete. We had fun and it was great to get some good exercise in at the beginning of the day. There are still spaces available, so come on down (to Lower Washington Park) on Monday, Wednesday, and/or Friday next week at 7 a.m. and join us. E-mail me if you have questions.

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. He can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.

Comments

Submitted by Jon Spangler on Fri, Aug 14, 2015

Commercialism (greed) sucks. Nike should not be able to dictate what athletes wear at all. (Whatever happened to donating money to support an Olympic team just to be generous and patriotic?) If Nike wins this, the athletes with the best ability to suck up to sponsors--and not the fastest or best athletes competing--will be the top qualifiers....

Submitted by Jon Spangler on Fri, Aug 14, 2015

Commercialism (greed) sucks. Nike should not be able to dictate what athletes wear--on or off the field. (Whatever happened to donating money to support an Olympic team *just* to support the athletes, support sports, and be generous and patriotic?) If Nike wins this, the athletes with the best ability to suck up to sponsors--and not the fastest or best athletes competing--will be the top qualifiers.

The USOC is prostituting itself and Nike is the "john." Of course, both have a great role model in the scandalous IOC....

Submitted by Marty Beene on Wed, Aug 19, 2015

I think a huge challenge (similar to many aspects of life, not just this situation) is to figure out how to generate the income needed to run an organization, but then to somehow manage how much control contributors have. We see this in politics all the time, of course. But it also exists in other things. A huge corporation might pay a sports team millions of dollars to re-name the stadium, which many people may dislike. But the sports team has to generate revenue to function, so they see it as a necessary part of that situation. From talking with many people related to track & field, it seems that most people don't have any problem with Nike having their logo on the team apparel, but it's the "sitting in the hotel lobby drinking coffee" situation that goes too far. But if Nike's payment is half what it is in order to limit their reach, where does the rest of the money come from? It's a complicated, challenging situation, and I certainly don't have the answer, but it is a worthy topic of debate, for sure....