Professionalizing Track & Field in America!

from Dwight Phillips

Dwight Phillips has been a leader on and off the track in our sport for well over two decades. He is Chair of the USATF Athletes Advisory Committee and has an extraordinary collection of Olympic and World Championship titles on his resume. Here is Dwight’s recent commentary on some of our sport’s key questions, challenges and opportunities.

Since I have become chairman of the athletes advisory committee I have been fortunate to see the sport through a different lens. There are so many moving pieces and so many people with self serving interests that it is difficult to accomplish our ultimate goal of professionalizing track and field because person A was paid under the table for X amount of years and they are no longer personally benefiting and quite naturally they try to besmirch persons B reputation.

We are constantly fighting internal battles that have prevented us from advancing this sport.

During my tenure as a professional athlete one of the most consistently discussed topics amongst my peers was the lack of domestic competitions in America. Early on during my first season as a “professional athlete” and I say professional very sarcastically considering I was offered $5000.00 upon my completion of college. Anyway, often times I would listen to the grievances of veteran athletes lamenting on the fact that they had to hop on a plane and travel to Europe to make ends meat. Granted many of them felt blessed and fortunate to travel the world and meet incredible people but the bottom line is it didn’t affect their bottom line. “All we have to do is put on meets in New York, LA, Florida, Georgia, Texas and North Carolina and create enormous prize purses for our athletes so that fans can identify with and aspire to be like us,” are some of the sentiments that were often shared by my track colleagues. I have constantly agreed with these statements for over 18 years and frankly I’m sick and tired of hearing about it. Since I was elected as chairman of the athletes advisory committee in 2015 the overall consensus shared from athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, and agents is that they want to see more track and field in America.

What does that look like? Do we adopt the street race model to make it more engaging? Do we move away from linear television and follow the new trend of streaming and using social media as a platform? Do we create a team format that will create more fan involvement? Do we go back to doing USA vs Russia challenges as they did in the 70’s and 80’s. Can we increase prize purses that are reflective of a professional athlete? Can we create a platform for athletes to receive revenue shares of all media so that athletes can have a vested interest like other professional sports? All of these questions are solutions in my humble opinion. I am quite bemused that the English have figured out a way to parlay the Great Manchester Run with an engaging street track and field competition that pays exceptional well and has a great turnout. We should bring that same concept to United States and pair it with the Peachtree Road Race which is the Largest 10k in the World. We have to stop being myopic and move away from the old antiquate way of running track and field competitions.

We must pay attention to the global trend and understand that people are watching more shows on digital devices than on traditional TV screens.

It’s perplexing to me that all the media outlets such as T&F NEWS, GETTY IMAGES, FLOTRACK, RUNNERS WORLD and other publications are beneficiaries of monetary gains without having to allocate any money to the sport that is the flagship of their existence. I don’t comprehend how I have to pay 175.00 to use my photo of myself but Getty can sell my image to others for thousands of dollars and I get ZERO.

Athletes are disgruntled because athlete A,B,C, and D are getting all the recognition and only a select few athletes truly make enough money to call themselves professionals. We want to see our medalist and proven winners compensated more than High School Athletes. We live in a sport full of one hundred thousandaires and everyone wants to see this change, we want to see more millionaires. WE MUST ALL WORK TOGETHER TO SEE THESE ACTIONS CHANGE! Whether I’m apart of USATF or not I’m going to dedicate my life to advancing the sport of track and field so that some day we can all sit back and say WE’RE PROFESSIONALS.

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