I'm an ASICS athlete. I love being an ASICS athlete. The mantra, "A Sound Mind in a Sound Body" is something I think about a LOT in this athletic journey. They re-signed me when I tore my ACL in the year that my first contract expired. I could not be more proud to represent this company and everything it stands for. Beijing will be my third World Championships Team as an ASICS athlete. I have always been bothered by wearing a different company's brand on national teams, and am glad that Nick Symmonds began a conversation about the professionalism of the language surrounding the requirements that I've always tried to work around myself.
The article linked in that last sentence (and again here) by Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated is my favorite one on the subject, and echoes my thoughts on everything that has happened. Here are some additional ones:
1. There have always been double standards in apparel requirements at major championships. I practice and compete in the regular season in ASICS gear. When I am at a Team USA event, I wear Team USA gear per the (vaguely-worded) statement of conditions and reminders that have always been in place. My teammates at these events who happen to be sponsored by the company that sponsors USATF (Nike) also wear their team-issued apparel, but are permitted to mix in their regular-season gear as well. I have already seen Instagram posts and Twitter photos of my friends in their bright orange, cheetah-print singlets at training camp in Japan instead of a variation of red, white, and blue. I understand why they do this: As an example, I received zero tank tops in my team-issued gear this year-an item of clothing that is a staple in my training. Athletes whose private sponsorship coincides with USATF's are simply bringing enough of their own clothes to get them through a week of practice without doing laundry every other day. Because of the statement of conditions, I don't have that option. And I think that double standard further supports the claim that USATF is "owned by Nike". If I can *ONLY* bring Team USA gear, everyone else should only be permitted to wear Team USA gear. The only reason I have enough apparel to wear is that I've stock-piled the few items of team-issued clothing that I actually like wearing since I started making national teams in 2008.
2. It seems to me like a lot of people have missed the fact that athletes are permitted to wear unbranded apparel surrounding Team USA events. I bring a lot of these items, as I'm more comfortable in them than a competing brand's clothing, and I make sure by doing so that I'll have enough to wear. Sometimes I think that being "unbranded" at a major championship makes just as much of a statement as wearing ASICS would. I have the team-issued gear, but I choose not to wear it more often than I do. And obviously I love that these rules have never applied to shoes. I ordered these and these specifically to sport in Tokyo and Beijing!
3. Don't get me wrong: I agree with more clearly defining what constitutes an "official Team USA event" at major championships. I just wish that the multitude of athletes sponsored by companies other than the one that sponsors USATF had had a chance to talk about this in Beijing, much like we did in London about Rule 40, first. I'm hoping that this will still happen, but unfortunately Nick won't be there to join the conversation. Nick is outspoken and passionate about his beliefs (even if others (including me) don't agree with everything he says). He has proven himself a knowledgeable navigator of the firestorm that is social media (and media in general), which is obviously important in this day and age. He's been "controversial" before. And before that. And before that. I'm not sure that any other current track and field athlete could have played this role like Nick Symmonds, and I told my ASICS rep so when he asked my opinion. While I can't agree wholeheartedly with "burning USATF to the ground" and would never say that contracts written by the organization are piles of excrement (to put it politely as Nick didn't), I can support the quest for increased professionalism in language used to describe USATF sponsor relationships and athletes' obligations to abide by them. And I will at the USATF Annual Meeting in December. There's a link on that page referring directly to the fact that 2015 is a Law and Legislation year, and bylaws can be changed with proper proposals. Here's our chance. Again, I applaud Nick's efforts to get this conversation started, but what Russ and I have talked about and fear is that rash decisions based on one individual's experiences to create controversy around the only revenue stream that keeps USATF afloat will result in loss of that revenue stream, and loss of the sport. What if the contract that USATF signed through 2040 specifically required that statement of conditions? I wouldn't call it good business, but it's a business tactic to intentionally make readers of the statement of conditions assume that the vague wording means they're only allowed to wear team-issued gear. They're ambiguous on purpose in a sort of lie of omission way. So if the statement of conditions was a required stipulation in the contract that USATF signed, wouldn't changing it be a violation of said contract? The company in question has been known to pull sponsorship suddenly before (and in a similar case with my old training partner). I'm totally speculating here, but that's where my mind went. Legal entities that put these contracts and their supporting documentation in place are professional organizations, and changing the wording of them to better support athletes' individual rights (a worthy goal) needs to be sought after in an equally professional manner. And using inside voices.
4. It's hard to be a multiple-time World Championship team member sponsored by ASICS, watch Nick Symmonds speak out against a "contract" that I've (along with many others) continually worked around to represent my sponsor anyway, and feel like he has my back. Some of the articles posted on the subject have posed questions about why track and field athletes can't unite in a common goal, and my answer has always been that we're not competing in the same sport. Financially, in terms of personal experiences on international circuits, fan-base-wise, and for other reasons, we have very little to relate to each other on across event groups. It's hard for me to trust Nick Symmonds with speaking for my sport, because his perspective is very different from my own and that of at least one other field event athlete that I know pretty well (my husband :)). I want to trust Nick and all of my fellow athletes, but I just don't know a lot of them. I have loved the opportunity to get to know some people from other event groups on the circuit, and that trend should continue tenfold for us to all be able to cooperate. Similarly, one of the biggest perks of belonging to the ASICS family is that I get to be buddies with Sharon Day-Monroe, Heather Kampf, Becky Holliday, Ryan Martin, Amanda Smock, Alysia Montano, and other diverse and awesome people. I have actual relationships with them because we have actual conversations at meets, and I love cheering them on. If that feeling of camaraderie can expand to Team USA to help us work together, I'll be thrilled.
5. I thought it was pretty lame of USATF to state that they wouldn't enforce apparel rules on athletes' personal time in Beijing after all of this business went down, but then I read that Nick was aware that USATF felt that way before August 9th. But then I read that USATF was "unaware" that the letter in question (stating that athletes should only bring team-issued gear) went out with the uniforms, and I went back to feeling like that was lame. I remember receiving similar letters in all the shipments of gear I've gotten from USATF over the years, and I've always taken them as mere suggestions. Of course I'm going to bring ASICS gear and my uniform: I always do. I'm traveling directly to Zurich after World Championships, so obviously I need my regular season uniform, and wearing the familiar gear that I love reminds me of the constant support that ASICS provides me at the most essential time. I know that putting this letter on blast only strengthened Nick's arguments, and that's why he did it, but I wish for his sake that he had taken it as a suggestion rather than a rule as well. That doesn't change the fact that it's silly for USATF to have been "unaware" that the letter went out and was worded that way. That long-term major oversight (if that's what it was instead of a subtle attempt at furthering USATF's sponsor image with suggestions veiled as rules) is unprofessional.
Overall, I'll be ready to have conversations about increasing professional language and definitions in required documents after the season is over. I think that an opportunity was missed for athletes to have this conversation in Beijing instead of on social media (or perhaps in supplement), as there are a lot of athletes with a dog in the fight (By my count, 36 of 62 female athletes are sponsored by a company other than the official USATF sponsor this year. I didn't take it upon myself to compile data for the men.). I'm old enough and experienced enough now to feel like I can bring something to this discussion, and I'd like to do so in a professional manner. I haven't been to a USATF Annual Meeting since 2011 for various reasons, but Houston should expect to see me this year.
Traveling to Tokyo for training camp with Russ tomorrow!!!! Now to pack a kaleidoscope of items.