“And it’s too late, baby, now it’s too late
Though we really did try to make it,”  –  Carol King, 1971

Really, does it make any difference anymore?  After our nearly 30 years in the wilderness under Ollan Cassell ( he was Executive Director of the AAU 1970–1980, then Executive Director of USA Track and Field 1980–1997), the following ten years of triage under Craig Masback, and the recently completed two-year sideshow of Doug Logan, unless we discover that Dick Ebersol announced his resignation as head of NBC on May 19th in order to take the post as USATF CEO, would anyone outside Indianapolis even lift an ear bud for news of who’s next on the USATF Gong Show stage?

Honest, this sport is so far outside the mainstream of the American sporting consciousness, and USATF has its own head so far twisted up its bureaucratic ass, that to think anyone, even Mr. Ebersol, would be anything but insignificant as leader would be to believe Harold Camping’s five-month margin of error excuse for his May 21st rapture miscall.                  

USATF President Stephanie Hightower

So when word leaked out yesterday via Steve Miller, head of the USATF search committee to Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune, that USATF president Stephanie Hightower may, indeed, now be a candidate for the USATF CEO position, this after she spearheaded Logan’s firing – and after U.S. Olympic Committee head Scott Blackmun said last fall that the USOC would not look with favor at any CEO candidate coming from the current USATF board – some folks were chilled by the prospect.  Some, I’m sure, were heartened.  But even Mr. Blackmun should ask himself: how, exactly, would Ms. Hightower’s ascension have any impact – positive or negative – on the state of track and field in America?

This is a kerfuffle that should have taken place 20 years ago when we might still have had a chance to resurrect this once proud sport.  Today, that time has passed.  Nobody is paying attention.  The world has moved on.

So if Stephanie wants to swing her power base from Columbus, Ohio to Indianapolis, Indiana, I say, give her as much rope as she wants.  What have we or she got to lose?  In spite of any public pronouncements, it’s pretty obvious that at least she wants the job, which is more than could be said for the Vin Lananna, associate athletic director at the University of Oregon, or Mary Wittenberg, president of the New York Road Runners, the two most qualified candidates intelligent enough to stay away from the charnel house that is USATF headquarters.

People usually get what they deserve, anyway.  So this might just be the perfect match after all.


21 thoughts on “TOO LATE

  1. Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m
    undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  2. You’ve outdone yourself this time, Toni. Caustic, cynical, “the emperor has no clothes on” writing that hits once below the belt and keeps on punching. After decades of this nonsense, one would think that us residents of the running world would be sick and tired of beating our sad little heads against the wall. Can something, anything be done? Of course it can, if those of us with the fortitude and burning desire to make it happen pull our collective talents and resources together to forge something meaningful, an organization that will speak for the athletes above all, an organization that will promote this remarkable sport that should, and can be, revered, loved and watched (regularly!) by not just those of us in it but the rest of the world that yes, you’re so right Toni, has passed us by.

    Perhaps a good place to start might be with Running USA, which unfortunately evolved into a trade organization over the past few years, and one that dare I say (yes I will!) has conflict-of-interest and cronyism issues much like USATF. There’s a wealth of talent in that group, people with institutional memory if you will who have been around for decades and relative newcomers to the sport who bring fresh, new ideas. We’re looking to those of you on the board, like Toni, Annie and others to right that ship and get it going steady ahead. (Pardon the mixed metaphors) A board of directors has the power to make change, to make things happen. We know you’ll use that power wisely, in the best interests of the sport. There’s still hope, at least in my estimation, to make things happen through a vehicle like RUSA; it hasn’t been around for decades, inertia hasn’t quite set in yet and the impetus is there now in the running community to get meaningful things done. It’s boils down to doing what’s best for the sport, what everyone knows can be done to “resurrect this once proud sport” as you so eloquently put it, Toni. But that goal will only be achieved when people are willing to relinquish “fiefdoms” and check egos at the door. That can be tough to do, but not impossible; all of us ultimately want the sport to flourish. We’ve all grown tired of the frustration, and I know for one that I’m tired of complaining. It’s so true that if you’re not looking for a solution, you’re part of the problem. Thanks Toni and Annie for being part of the solution.

  3. They had the perfect candidate both when Logan was hired and when Logan was fired: Bill Schmidt. Bill was a bronze medalist in the javelin @ 1972 Olympic Games and was VP of Marketing w/ Gatorade for a decade. He pioneered sports marketing in the early 1980’s (he was behind all the Michael Jordan ads, started the NBA Slam Dunk contest, MLB Home Run contest and more) and has the experience, ideas and Rolodex of important people who could have really brought USATF to being a major sport with real TV chops. He has a real passion for the sport because of all it helped him to become and had a fire in his belly to “make a difference”- he really wanted this position for both the challenge and the sport’s potential. No one has his combination of elite athlete experience, business/marketing success and financial/media contacts. Both times early in the screening/interview process Bill was passed on. And you wonder why the sport is in such dire shape.

  4. You said it well Toni….as a coach and track official at the high school level in NH I am saddened at how few (actually usually none) of my athletes even know of famous track and field athletes or distance runners…few of them even realize that there are track meets after college other than the Olympics…very sad…

  5. Good stuff again, Toni.
    I’m also an admirer of Anne Audain’s. Loved watching her run.
    You got it all right, but one thing, Toni. Some folks are listening. We aren’t sure what to DO, but we’re listening. I think participation is what we have going for us and that the sheer passion people have for the sport will be the thing to use to the advantage when trying to turn the tide. Let me know what I can do.

  6. 30 years ago Olan Cassell sat me down in Denver Airport and told me I had been a “very naughty girl” because of my stand to turn the sport pro by winning the the first pro race in Portland OR, resulting in a lifetime ban. All sports in the USA had to go through this transition from amateur to professional and succeeded. We haven’t . We continue to be so fractured, defensive of our fiefdoms, no constructive conversation to pull ALL the running entities under one roof. Watching sport coverage on USA TV on the weekends it is impossible to find any coverage on a national level for our sport. We are being beaten by LAcrosse and Soccer even when statistics say that the Number One sport for high school girls is Track and XCountry! We have lost, by our sports lack of leadership, any opportunities for these young runners to enjoy any future after college except for marathons. For reference, I always state that if you are going to be critical , make sure you try and make a difference too. Both Toni and I are on the Running USA board of Directors. We are trying!

    1. So my question becomes simple, why the doomsday tone? Why is it too late? As we ever so slowly evolve, your above piece is a great example of why it has taken 30 years rather than 10 to change into a full fledged pro sport. Its not the public, it is us. It always has been and continues to be, us, the family of track and field that remains dismissive of changes, overly critical of leadership, and rarely constructive in changing things for the better. We rather pot shot, and tear down any hope of success, however minute, than speak of hope and the glimmer of light. All of this negativity in the sport as it still grows and evolves professionally.

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