Most people would assume that race is not a major factor in sports. Sports are the great equalizer. Talent can open doors to unimaginable fame and fortune and the most skilled athletes can’t be denied. We would hope that sports see no color, no bias, exclusion or racism.
One could argue that athletics is one of the purest sports in terms of racial discrimination. Athletes from all over the world participate and one jump, one race, one throw, decides who stands at the top of the podium victorious. There is no room for subjectivity or favoritism, only pure talent and athleticism at the highest levels. We would like to believe that is how it goes. But not so fast, the situation is not as black and white as you would think.
Speaking about race, bias, and discrimination is uncomfortable for most people. It’s that sensitive spot that everyone wants to avoid. Most want to be politically correct and fear being offensive. This often means glaring discrimination is whispered about behind closed doors and alluded to by infuriated victims but never publicly denounced, making change of the status quo virtually impossible.
To say that the recent emails sent to USATF CEO Max Seigel were inflammatory and insulting is a gross understatement.
As I let the levity of the messages sink in I thought about many of the injustices in the sport I love so much, track and field. I lamented the fact that with so many crusaders fighting against the injustices in our sport for “all athletes” nobody had addressed the fact that there is a disparity between the pay top level sprinters and distance runners receive and the existence of sponsor funded performance teams with no diversity, a sharp contrast to the melting pot of excellence that characterizes our sport.
I always respect a person who is passionate about fighting against injustices. Those people are key influencers that help our sport move in a positive direction. But I must note that true influencers do not only speak on issues that affect them or their pockets or others who look like them. True agents of change are not self serving nor do they turn a blind eye to obvious injustices. As AAC chair I have been dedicated to improving the experience of all athletes across all events. There is no room for ‘have and have nots’ because we can never progress until we address the issues of our collective body.
I intend to keep working diligently for the amazing USATF athletes and bring to light what has been discussed in the shadows for far too long. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to injustices. You have all heard the excuses: “distance runners sell shoes” or “she or he has the look” or “field events aren’t marquee events” or “women don’t have the same notoriety and name recognition as men.” All thinly veiled excuses for the discriminatory practices that have plagued our sport for far too long. I have heard so many stories, seen so many examples and watched so many deserving athletes miss opportunities or earn compensation that is not commensurate with their performance. We have world medalists making a fraction of the salaries athletes who are at the bottom of the national ranks make. Television opportunities are offered to individuals because they fit a certain standard of beauty and spokesperson opportunities that target a small segment of our vast pool of superstars because they are deemed to fit the “all American image” that is often referenced by decision makers.
It’s time to attack the lack of diversity in our sport because at the end of the day the only color that should truly matter to our athletes, sponsors, and governing body is Gold. We need to send the message that talent, hard work and winning are the great equalizers. We must unite for what is right and start the conversation for change today. Until all of our athletes receive equal opportunities we will not reach the finish line in victory.