The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

An Elite Athlete’s Perspective on the Status of the Sport in the US…

Feb 23rd, 2009
10:44 am PST

The following text is a letter (reprinted with permission and unedited) to USATF from an elite athlete. It provides an insight into the athlete’s view of the sport and why change is needed.


Hello Mr Logan,
As I sit back and look at all the transitions of power in USATF and read the findings of Project 30, I find myself still questioning the real benefit of being an “elite” athlete. First, let me address the title of “elite.” What exactly is that label? Beginning with the intangibles, “Elite” athletes sacrifice time, effort, pride, sweat, tears, just to name a few. Tangibly, I can list from the weekly massages, agent and coaching fees, medical bills for injuries and rehab, traveling expenses, the list continues. And good luck if you don’t have a shoe contract, which is the only consistent source of sponsorship in our sport. The shoe companies have so much control, athletes find themselves and their career at the beckon call of others when it should be vice versa. 
Now if you were to actually take the numbers of all the athletes who you label “Elite” and complete a traditional ROI formula that any corporation/Individual (that’s what we label ourselves on any 1040 form) would use, we would be considered a beyond the doubt statistical business failure. So how should we view things from our perspective? Statistically like any other business? Based on the average ROI of the USATF “Elite” athletes, collectively we are statistically an organized failure, who expenses outweigh the revenue.    
It is time for change. I am still confused on how a non-profit organization runs a for-profit situation.  We run to make money and pay our bills, not to raise money for the common good of the sport. That is no secret.  As I prepare to make my trip to Indoor Nationals, I find it appalling that USATF has come up with a fixed amount of about $500.00 to give to the top 5 athletes in each event. What exactly is that covering? My hotel expenses, which total $500.00 after the $149.00/night rate, takes care of that, so I guess that leaves me to pay for my food, flight, and not to mention I have to pay for my coach who I have to fly in, board, and feed for the 3 days I am there. Again, aren’t the top athletes the reason why advertisers pay for their TV ad spots during the broadcast or their name to be posted on the signage at the meet? Yet, we have to basically pay our own way to compete when we are the core reason for viewership, which is the core reason for the sponsorship USATF receives?
To put things in perspective, I am a 2007 World Champion, a 2008 Olympian, and I am currently under contract, and yes I am still far from happy with what I get back from this sport in which I put so much into on a daily basis. Let’s not even talk about the athletes who aren’t fortunate enough to even name a title or say that they have a shoe company contract. In other American professional sports, if you don’t have a Championship Title it doesn’t mean you can’t pay your bills. Many people question the authenticity of our sport due to all the doping issues that arise. If you have only the people at the top making money and being successful, it forces the others to sink to depths that they shouldn’t or usually wouldn’t, just to make it. Now by no means do I condone doping or give athletes excuses in any way, but I do believe that USATF should look at its role in the downfall of our sport and see its non-direct contribution of poor structure adding to the pressure for an athlete to be on top.
We are still getting the short end of the stick. I am a professional by definition and I spend hours and hours perfecting what I do, and spend check after check to do it. When USATF gets these major sponsors, it is highly based on the ROI the sponsors get back from the High Performance division, yet athletes see little to nothing from it. We are a major reason why USATF has sponsors, we are the reason why agents and coaches have jobs, we are the reason why people spend money for merchandise and buy tickets to sit in the stands and what are we really getting back? Simply put, we are getting pimped by the system. Let’s not mention the 401k and pension plans that do not exist, which means our sport can’t even give us any means for our future as any other career would. But then again, if I was to stick to the verbiage provided, track & field would be a mere hobby of mine, where I am considered an amateur as in intramural sports. So please tell me, should I not expect professional business components because technically I am not participating in a professional for-profit business? Maybe I am the one who fails to see that based on the current structure of the sport of USA Track & Field, I am getting what you can give.
Well let me be one of the many “elite” athletes to say it is time for a for-profit division to be separated from a non-profit organization and management structure. It’s time for professionalism. It’s time for the sport of Professional Track & Field to emerge. You came from a sports league background, so you know the shortcomings of this current structure and you know the opportunities that will come with change. I might not be able to reap the benefits, but I am praying that the athletes that follow our footsteps won’t have to face the short comings of our sport that we have to face today.
In closing, how long will the athletes have to continue to suffer? Major changes have to be made, and it can start from you. I am here ready and willing to help in any way as I am sure many other athletes are. I have a Masters degree in Communications, I’ve worked in corporate america. I want to be a part of making a serious change for our sport and making it a profitable business for all involved. We can create not only more opportunity for athletes to be successful, but our sport as a whole. I have ideas. I have a plan to propose. The WBNA took their chance. So can we. I am asking for your ear and time for me to discuss my thoughts for our sport. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you,

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