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October 11, 2016 | Issue 48
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Tam Summit
Sunday Summit. #saytwowordsinstagram.com/mariofraioli

Good morning! Later than usual send this week, so let’s dive right in:

Bureaucracy and cronyism to the Max.

At the point of the morning shakeout’s existence it probably comes as no surprise to regular readers that I’m leading off with last Friday’s Washington Post exposé on USA Track & Field CEO Max Siegel’s unethical leadership of the organization and questionable spending habits. And why wouldn’t I? The amount of bureaucracy and cronyism that exists amongst the sport’s governing bodies at both the national and international levels is blatant, sickening and killing the sport from the top down. 

I’ll get back to Max’s foibles in a minute, but just who are our sport’s leaders looking out for? I’ve written about the IAAF’s corrupt, self-serving ways in previous issues of this newsletter (here and here), so we’ll leave those alone for now and focus on the ongoing domestic issues that didn’t see public light until last Friday. In the case of USA Track & Field, which oversees “children competing at the youth level to senior citizens competing at masters level—and to field America’s track team at international competitions, including the Olympics,” one could easily be convinced that a 23-year contract extension worth $500 million with the sport’s largest and most powerful sponsor is “a game-changer for the sport and what USATF will be able to offer all of our constituents,” as Siegel stated in 2014.

But when you dig deeper, as The Post did, you learn that it was a game-changer for Siegel, who got a $500K bonus after the contract was signed despite not negotiating the deal—which, let’s be honest, ultimately serves the longterm interests of the aforementioned sponsor intent on preserving their perpetual stranglehold on the sport in this country. It was also a game-changer for the two former executives of said sponsor who did negotiate the deal on behalf of USATF and received a fat commission check totaling $23.75 million for their previously unmentioned handiwork. That $10,000 bonus each Olympian got for making the team this year doesn’t look like much of a game-changer now, does it?

Siegel’s issues extend far beyond “the big deal,” however. The first-class frequent flier and recently appointed chair of IAAF’s marketing commission, who has threatened to “f*ck anyone up” (his words) that goes after him personally and regularly expenses a lot of things to USA Track & Field that fund his other interests and help him “save on taxes” (also his words), also gave six figures worth of work without entertaining other bids to a marketing company “that once billed itself as ‘a Max Siegel company.’”

I could go on rehashing the questionable and perhaps illegal actions of the guy who heads up track and field in this country but I’ll stop there since The Post did a bang-up job covering it all. Siegel needs to explain himself and stop deferring his comments to Jill Geer, who is quickly running out of feet to put in her mouth while trying to defend her boss’s decisions. Then Siegel needs to resign, along with most of his board, otherwise it’s only a matter of time before it’s “game over” for track and field in the United States. 

+ I really want to know how much USA Track & Field (and the IAAF, amongst other organizations) pays Alan Abrahamson to spew this special brand of bullshit. The “Race-based character assassination” rebuttal to the aforementioned Post piece is in the running for his most outrageous story of the year behind this unnecessarily rosy portrait of Justin Gatlin and the pro-Russia pitch pre-Rio.

Let the script write itself.

The men’s race at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday was a bit of a sleeper for most of the morning before things got good just past the 20-mile mark when Kenyans Dickson Chumba and Abel Kirui decided that it was time to start racing. It was worth the wait. While the winning time was slow, those 30-ish minutes of unpredictable grimace-inducing effort were so much more compelling to watch than a carefully orchestrated record attempt. Along those lines, my answer to the question posed by Michael Crawley in this recent Guardian piece, “The two-hour marathon: who is it for?” is “Not me.” Why? As I wrote in Issue 27, racing isn’t meant to follow a script. It’s a special type of theatre whose drama is meant to be dictated by the characters involved, not a playwright who comes up with predetermined plot. Races, despite the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs amongst them in today’s professional ranks, were never meant to be well-funded science experiments pursuing the arbitrary barriers time can often create. “As far as I’m concerned, injecting huge amounts of money into helping a select group of athletes, regardless of whether they are technically overstepping the line, is not in the spirit of the sport,” Crawley wrote. I couldn’t agree more.

Quick Splits

— Somewhere at my Dad’s house there’s an old report card I have stashed away in which my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, wrote, “Keep asking a lot of questions.” That youthful curiosity has continued served me well in life, whether conducting an interview for a story, attempting to understand a difficult concept, trying to solve a problem that’s been stumping me, or freeing myself from a bad case of writer’s block. I recently came across this year-old piece from the Harvard Business Review about relearning the art of asking questions and enjoyed the reminder to ask “the right kinds of questions, based on the problem you’re trying to solve.” Check it out (and start questioning everything while you’re at it).

This interview Ezra Klein conducted with renowned surgeon and writer Atul Gawande is thought-proviking on many levels, but his thoughts on failure—a common theme of the conversation—stood out to me most. “I think the thing I believe that others don’t necessarily is that we fail all the time,” Gawande says. “That the reasons we’re successful are because we set up systems that allow us to fail, get up, and move on—and that we’re insufficiently forgiving of those kinds of failures.”

— I have an affinity for the written word—as do a small majority of you who subscribe to this newsletter, apparently. Phew.

That’s it for Issue 48. Let me have it by replying directly to this email or berating me publicly on Twitter

Thanks for reading,

Mario

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