Monthly Archives: January 2013

Every Generation Needs a New Revolution

Written by:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  January 31, 2013

What do you do when the laws of the land become outdated and the rulers who enforce these laws refuse to acknowledge this change in order to preserve the old guard?  History has shown that those astute to this change have risen in protest spreading awareness to all those negatively impacted by old world fundamentalism.  The collective efforts of advocates most often results in Revolution-mass movements recognizing the need to fundamentally upgrade systems, practices, and constructs affecting societal behavior, philosophy, and government to reflect the changing world.

Why talk about revolution in a track & field blog?  Well, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every generation needs a new revolution,” in order to progress and fulfill ideals projected by each generation.  The 21st Century ushered in a new generation of athletes.  Thanks to the phenomenal athletic and business efforts of athletes such as Michael Jordan, A-Rod, Magic Johnson, and David Beckham, the new generation has come to understand that Athletics at the elite level is a Profession, not a hobby.  Now, when this same generation looks at track & field and views the rules governing the sport, their understanding is suddenly confounded.

Allow me to explain.

Many of the rules governing the sport still favor amateurism over professionalism.  I say “still” because the rules were written at a time when amateurism reigned as the supreme doctrine of sport.  Take a moment one day and look back through time.  Back, back, way back to the 1880s.  There, you will find a great and noble man named William Buckingham Curtis also known as THE FATHER OF AMATEURISM.  This is the guy who established an organization called the Amateur Athletic Union.  To establish this association, Curtis wrote a set of rules reflecting his views on sport, socioeconomics, and well…the ideologies of his class.  If you recall, economist Thornstein Veblan explained sports as an unproductive demonstration of status and wealth already attained through productive professions.  (See past blog).  Translation:  Sport then was (and still is in many ways) regarded as a leisure activity reserved for the upper-class.  This activity was designed to flaunt social status.  Sport, at the time the AAU was established, was not a socially acceptable means to acquire wealth.  For athletes to demand compensation for engaging in an “unproductive” or leisure activity was frowned upon and greatly discouraged.  Curtis shared these sentiments like most noblemen of his time.  The rules he wrote reflected this ideology and defined the infrastructure of many sports including track & field.  Consequentially, track & field can be said to be a sport originally designed for nobility.

Let’s now speed up time and look at the 1960s.  By the 1960s, the participants in track & field in the US had changed.  Track was made available to people of all classes, races, and sexes.  Although track grew in diversity, the rules of the game still reflected the philosophies of 19th century aristocracy.  Amateurism was a belief strongly upheld by governing bodies under the direction of leaders such as Avery Brundage.  The well-to-do Brundage fought to preserve the ideals of amateurism to…well…exclude non-noblemen (to put it extremely mildly).  The rules they upheld were not adapted to the socially changing world.  Consequently, many athletes who had not yet acquired wealth through “productive professions,” had to begin thinking about turning track into a profession in order to finance their athletic pursuits.  The time and costs it took to train, fuel, and compete would impact their pockets.  Unfortunately, emerging governing bodies that adopted AAU rules as their own would make it difficult…That plus the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.  Just look at the stories of Wilma Rudolph, Tommy Smith, John Carlos, Lee Evans and other athletes of the 1960s, 70s, 80s…

Today, the philosophies of Curtis and his 19th century associates can still be read to some degree in the rulebooks.  The definition of amateurism has changed a bit to include people of all classes but the idea of sports for leisure, sports for fun still remains.  For athletes who wish to make a career out of track & field, this philosophy impacts their livelihood.  To accommodate career level athletes, a change must be made.  Rules must be added to support the purity of professionalism.  As history shows, this change will not come easy.  As long as governance values amateurism over professionalism, many competitors will struggle to start, keep, and build a career in track…and if the athlete struggles, the sport struggles.

So, perhaps the track & field world should follow the advice of President Jefferson.  A little revolution is good every now and then.  Amateurism is fine and has its place, but so does professionalism.  In order to progress and grow as a sport, rules must be updated and reassessed to determine how they impact the athlete especially if there’s athletes who wish to have a real career as a professional.   Given recent events with pro-runners fighting to gain visibility, marketing opportunities, contracts, etc, the governing bodies can no longer take an, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” approach to managing the sport.   It’s time for an upgrade.

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Many Questions – No Answers

What is the reasoning behind:

…someone who is unwilling to run against others in front of a crowd but is receptive to the idea of running at a gym showing off on a treadmill as they workout with others in front of a crowd?

…someone who wakes up religiously to run with relentless dedication and vigor in the dark of morn at 6:00AM but refuses the idea of training?

…someone who runs in competitive marathons year after year but rejects the idea of competing?

…some young/old track star who quits track and looks back at the sport eyes of longing?

…that same track star who becomes defensive or fearful when asked to return to the sport?

…people who do not like running or feel you must like running to run?

…RUNNING for charity rather than simply giving from their pocket?

…people who regard all professional athletes alike when it comes to income when K0be Bryant’s net worth is 6 times greater than Usain Bolts and Bolt is track’s highest paid athlete?  (Kobe- $200M, Usain- $30M…most T&F prof- athletes $50K to $1M)

…the vision of 1950s track & field rule makers when they drafted the rules that set up the infrastructure of track governing bodies and track & field today?

…applying rules clearly intended for team sports such football, basketball, and baseball to track & field when track is an individualized sport?

…track policy makers today as they continue to uphold those 1950s ideals and apply them to a 21st century audience?

…Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and other athletic gear manufacturers when companies opt to use everyday models to market their running shoes & gear instead of track & field athletes?

So many questions…are there any answers?

What is a Runner? Who is a Runner?

Written by:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  January 7, 2013

What is a Runner?
The answer may appear obvious, but if you take into account target markets, products, literature, media, sociology, economics, and other non-athletic factors that define what a runner is, you’d be surprised at the complexities of such a question.

I know I was.

I consider myself a runner.  I’ve been involved in organized Track & Field for over 19 years.  I’ve competed all over the US among the best.  I have a cabinet full of trophies, medals, and plaques.  I can read a runner’s style and determine what areas of their body are weakest and how they can improve.  I coach track. I train people who run.  I am currently running on a team and plan to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games.  Yet, I am not considered a “Runner” according to business and socio-economics.

Apparently, the title “Runner” has been attributed to those individuals who run 5K or more.  Runners run long distances.  Runners do not have to be athletic, they just have to be willing to run for long periods of time.  Runners participate in competitive events like 5Ks or the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon, but never intend to win or compete.

Runners run for leisure and uphold the philosophies set back in 1896 by their Yale elitist forefathers who propagated sports are a leisurely and charitable activity.  Those who have leisure time are part of a unique prestigious group of upperclassmen.

Business loves to cater to this group.  If you go into a sporting goods store, most of the shoes are cushioned at the heel for long distance running rather than mid or short.  If you go into Barnes & Noble, most of the books featuring running are written for non-competitive long distance runners.  If you Google running, you’ll run into articles targeting the needs of long distance runners.  Leisure runners make up well over 90% of running.  Of the runners who compete in the LA Marathon only maybe 20 men and women combined actually compete for the gold.  The remaining 1,000,000+ run just to run.  As the powers that be say, the majority wins.  The majority defines who is and who is not a runner.

So what am I according to the Majority?  I am a track & field athlete that runs.

Sigh…

(No matter how much I study the leisure runner, I may never understand him/her.  The impact of the leisure runner is powerful and affects the composition of track & field.  Yet he/she does not understand his/her relationship to the sport or why he/she runs long distances under an ancient Ivy League philosophy.  My objective is to build spectatorship, increase athlete retention, and boost the marketability of track & field.  To meet these objectives, I need Runners- track & field or otherwise- to help build the sport.  The task ahead is great).  

We Need A Resolution

Written by:  Katrina M. Smith, MBA
Date:  January 3, 2013

At the beginning of each year, people around the world set what’s become known as New Year’s Resolutions.  Resolutions are about resolving some unmet desire/need to improve one’s life or as Joel Osteen writes, “Becoming a better you!”  Track & field believe it or not fits this progressive concept.

Becoming a better you.  Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?  When spectators and novices first view the sport, they see competitors competing against each other and assume the sport is about comparisons.  Beating others.  Conquering man! To some extent the sport does reflect these perceptions.  However, for the most part, track & field is about self-improvement.  Usain Bolt is presently ranked as the world’s fastest, yet he continues to run.  If the sport was just about beating others, his mission would be fulfilled, and he would no longer feel the need to run.  So why does he continue?  Aside from contractual agreements with Puma, he runs to better himself.  Realize his best!  Track then behaves as a chisel sculpting his life (his person) day by day to fulfill his vision of “becoming a better you.”  Track is a lifestyle not an event or activity.  With track, Usain Bolt, Alyson Felix, Nick Symmonds, Dawn Harper, and countless athletes worldwide exercise their mind, body, and spirit to PR on the track and in life.

So runners, let’s start the year off on a new foot by rethinking track.  As Aaliyah once said, “We Need A Resolution!”

For this 2013 and beyond, may our resolution be to “Become a Better You” through track & field.