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August 2, 2016 | Issue 38
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Good morning! The spectacle in South America (which shall not be named by those brands who actually support the athletes participating in the event) gets underway on Friday and, as expected, it’s getting coverage from every imaginable angle. Here’s a roundup of what’s caught my attention ahead of the big event in Brazil, along with a smattering of unrelated pieces and thought-provoking ideas worth pondering when you get a chance. Enjoy!

Keeping those whistles blowing. 

Last week I linked to Steve Magness’ piece on the realities of being a whistle-blower, and I’m following it up here with some additional commentary from Kiwi Zane Robertson, who trained in Kenya for seven years and will represent his New Zealand in the 10,000m in Rio. Robertson has seen firsthand the doping problems that exist in Kenya, and he’s also had his life threatened for speaking up about it. “These guys are obviously very proud of their athletic achievements and what they have done as a country,” Robertson told The New Zealand Herald. “It’s that whole pride that sets them back. They are willing to win at any cost and willing to defend themselves at any cost. It's a dangerous environment to be in.” Robertson is speaking about Kenyans but the same can be said of any athlete, or group of athletes, who adopts a cutthroat approach to competition fueled by fame, bureaucratic greed and large sums of money. Since moving to Ethiopia, Robertson says he feels safer, but also acknowledges the drug testing there isn’t all the great either. So does this mean every Kenyan and Ethiopian (or Russian, or American, or [insert suspicious country or training group here]) is doping? Of course not, but accounts from the likes of Magness, Robertson and others highlight how difficult it is for someone to speak up about the wrongdoing they do see. I know for a fact there are more athletes that know who is doing (or has done) what but stay quiet for fear of losing something, be it a sponsorship opportunity, appearance fee, spot on a starting line at a major race, or, at worst, their life. So, given that these athletes are trying to make their living in an environment where everyone is forced to look out for their own best interests, can you blame them? On some level, it’s easier to stay silent, collect your paycheck(s) and go on living your life in silence. Can you imagine installing security cameras at your house because you’re worried someone is going to come after you or your family because you outed them for not playing by the rules? (I’ve had an athlete admit this to me.) Bottom line: Clean athletes and/or potential whistleblowers are, by and large, a handcuffed bunch. I admire the guts of those who have spoken up against what they’ve seen and experienced, knowing the huge risks involved for doing so. Improved and more widespread testing, while important, will never be enough to catch a committed cheat. History has shown that the best dirty doctors will almost always find a way for their clients to pass a doping test. And while out-of-competition testing has caught a few unsuspecting cheats by surprise and after-the-fact retesting has exposed others some years later (see the next item by ESPN’s Bonnie Ford) the only way Athletics—and other sports, for that matter—really moves forward is if the whistle-blowers of the world keep making a lot of noise. A collective ruckus is hard to ignore. 

  • The always excellent Bonnie Ford wrote this great piece for ESPN’s Outside The Lines on the delayed “glory” athletes experience when medals get re-awarded because the original podium finishers got popped a few years after the fact, while also highlighting the shortcomings of an antiquated and disjointed anti-doping system. “The system for disqualifying those athletes, reshuffling results and reallocating medals is so cumbersome and prolonged that, by the time it plays out, economic and psychic payoffs for the new recipients have long since evaporated,” Ford writes. As Adam Nelson, who received his shot put gold medal outside an airport food court nine years after the Athens Games, said, "The reality is that the only people to get punished in the sport from doping [are] the clean athletes.”
  • Meanwhile, 98 medalists from the 2008 and 2012 Games have re-tested positive according to the IOC but hey, let’s wait till after Rio to confirm those names because that seems to make total sense. (Yes, shaking your head and shouting “What the f*ck?” out loud is indeed the appropriate response in this situation.)

“The Movement” is going backward. 

The Olympic Games (shit, there I go saying forbidden words again) are nothing without the athletes who participate in them, yet it’s the IOC, its executives and “volunteers” who reap the biggest chunk of the financial reward. Backward from how you’d expect it to be, right? While this is not a new revelation by any means, to get a really solid grasp on just how disparate the distribution of dollars is across “The Movement” really is and to fully understand the degree to which athletes are essentially commodified, read this article from The Washington Post’s Will Hobson. It will make your head spin faster than Adam Nelson in a shot put circle. “They had a $100-bill-counting machine, and people were standing in line to get their stacks of hundred-dollar bills,” Bob Balk, a former Paralympic canoe athlete who attended the 2012 London Games as an IOC volunteer, said of the daily scene there four years ago for IOC members and ‘volunteers.’ “It was crazy.” Meanwhile, there are more Olympians than not struggling to support themselves in order to be a part of ‘The Movement.’ “For members of Team USA—many of whom live meagerly off the largesse of friends and family, charity, and public assistance—the biggest tangible reward they’ll receive for making it to Rio will be two suitcases full of free Nike and Ralph Lauren clothing they are required to wear at all team events,” writes Hobson. Moral of the story for most Olympic-level athletes trying to “make it” in their chosen sport: You’re fiscally better off “volunteering” for Tokyo 2020 than you are actually training to get there.  

  • While I’m at it, let’s expand upon the absurdity of “The Movement,” shall we? Hat tip to Jesse Williams, head of sports marketing at Brooks, who spearheaded an ambush marketing campaign around the much maligned “Rule 40” at the track and field Trials in Eugene last month. Just how silly is the rule? “The USOC is trying to force companies not to report results relating to athletes they sponsor or even share or retweet posts from Olympic accounts,” writes Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing. “Let that soak in – the United States Olympic Committee is trying to argue that Twitter users can’t retweet or share certain tweets. THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF TWITTER.”
OK, we're done here.

Quick Splits

Here are a few links to some non-Athletics related pieces and podcasts that I found interesting this past week. Have a look (or listen) at your leisure:

— A couple months ago I was a guest on Julia Hanlon’s Running On Om podcast and beat myself up afterward for spewing a barrage of “umms,” “likes,” and “you knows” throughout the interview. Turns out some of those filler words aren’t such a bad thing if you use them the right way

— Media, and the manner in which people consume it, is changing by the day. That’s not a secret at this point. The shift to an evolving array of digital platforms scares some publishers, excites others and stymies the rest. And while the headline of this article (“The Digital Rollout of Bill Simmons New Media Company Has Been Flawless”) is more than a little misleading, and the piece itself is overly patronizing toward the man himself, it does highlight a few important considerations—namely “speed, technological awareness and focus on contributing to existing conversations”—that many established media companies are failing to, well, consider when it comes to catapulting their editorial operation into the modern era. “Not only was he the name and byline that sports fans had trusted for years,” writes Aaron Dodez, “he was now able to position fully himself as the new-media maverick that simply outgrew his previous employer – the old sports guard, if you will.”

— I wrote about Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp in Issue 31of the morning shakeout. He’s making a re-appearance this week because I enjoyed this interview with him on John Bonini’s Louder Than Words podcast. Aside from the fact that he ran track in college, I’ve always liked Fried for his approach to building a lasting, profitable mid-sized business, something I’m paying a lot of attention to these days now that I’m involved in helping create what will hopefully be a sustainable company (more on that in the coming weeks!) and a great place to work. “Building a business means building something that’s profitable, sustainable, that can survive under its own weight, that can survive as long as you provide a great service to customers and treat employees well,” Fried says. “It’s the basics. It’s basic economics. That’s what business is and hat’s what entrepreneurship is—it’s not hustle and game and all that stuff.”

That’s it for Issue 38. Send your respectful remarks or ridiculous retorts my way by replying to this email or Tweeting in my direction. If you liked what you read here, please forward this to a friend or share it on your preferred social media platform(s). 

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

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