I just finished watching an undistinguished 1957 horse opera called The Big Land starring Alan Ladd and Virginia Mayo on Turner Classic Movies. (It’s a low-key Saturday). The movie tells the story of a group of farmers in post-Civil War Kansas teaming up with some Texas cattlemen bringing their herds north as together they hope to create a large and diverse enough new market to convince the Kansas Pacific Railroad to build a spur off its Kansas City line to handle the new town’s business.
It’s a good strategy, but also a major threat to a sinister Missouri cattle buyer who holds a monopoly on the current market and tightly controls the prices paid to the Texas ranchers. So when the new town begins to get built and another group of cattle buyers are brought in to bid on the herds about to arrive, the ruthless Missouri buyer rides in a gang of hired guns to intimidate the town folk and the new buyers.
Without any law enforcement in the new town the hired guns kill one of the Chicago buyers and also Edmond O’Brien, Alan Ladd’s business partner and the town father. The cattle buyers from Omaha, Chicago and Cincinnati are properly cowed and prepare to flee, meaning the demise of the new enterprise. Not until Aland Ladd returns from Texas with his herd to face down the bad guys does he get the girl, and give the new town its chance for a prosperous future. It’s the Wild West in all its 1950s Hollywood Technicolor re-creation.
We might as well be talking about the modern day sport of track and field, minus the Alan Ladd character.
Today we learned that London Grand Prix meet director Ian Stewart barred American runners Nick Symmonds and Lolo Jones from his meet for being, as Symmonds tweeted on his Twitter account, “a liability”. And that was that. Because that’s as far as the law goes in this sport, the individual meet director.
Forget whether Lolo Jones is or isn’t a liability for wearing her Red Bull sponsored head band, or that Nick Symmonds is a persona non grata for his open challenge to USATF’s restrictive athlete sponsor policies. And you have to even forget that Ian Stewart’s wife is Stephanie Hightower, president of USATF, the organization Symmonds is the burr under the saddle of. Instead think of this happening in any other “major” sport in the world.
Imagine the NBA, Major League Baseball, or the NFL Player Associations sitting idly by as an individual club owner arbitrarily bars athletes based on nothing more than political caprice. But this is what happens when a sport is without an overarching organization that regulates disputes that has representation for both the meets and athletes alike. Instead athletics (track & field) comes across as something just short of a professional sport, and something more akin to the Wild West.
Of course the chat rooms on-line are aflame with what they refer to as Stewart’s high-handed tactics. But don’t blame Ian, much less his wife. Though he was himself an Olympic medalist and World Cross Country champion in his glory days in the 1970s, Ian is now a seated member of the inner circle simply playing the very strong hand federations and their confederates have held since they began writing the one-sided rules in the 19th century.
No, if there is blame of any kind to be apportioned, it goes to each and every other athlete in London who saw how even national champion-level comrades can be summarily dismissed, and yet continue to go along to get along. As long as that remains the collective athlete response, me alone, Ian and Stephanie and all in like positions have nothing to fear. There is no Alan Ladd riding to the rescue.