Sense & Credibility
Between The Headlines, Running News 11/17/19
This is my space to share my take on what’s NOT being said as well as the things that ARE said but are not heard. If it’s coming out of my mouth, it’s probably been on your mind. (You’re welcome!)
TRIGGER WARNING: abuse, bullying, body-shaming, eating disorders
To be perfectly frank, this week we are talking about abuse. Our culture has enabled, supported, and uplifted bullies who are on a mission or claim some deeper, noble cause for their bullying. If the bully can say, "it's for their own good," we say, "OH OF COURSE carry on." We don't care who the target is. We don't care how much damage is caused; we look at collateral damage as a product of Darwinism, a necessary life lesson. We like to say, 'it's good for you" even when we have no idea what the lesson is. Rather than looking at the people in charge and saying, "THIS IS TERRIBLE!" we make it about the abused person, "they couldn't hack it". We are finally looking at the deeds and saying, "why should ANYONE have to put up with this????"
It's a good question. Hit a mule once it MAY run faster, hit it too many times it's gonna die. Bubba knows that. If we wanna be smarter than Bubba, we need to act like it.
Final note: the tendency to abuse in the name if, "it was for your own good" is called paternalism. It's time we looked our abusers in the face and said, "the hell it was, STOP THAT." And look, you don't have to believe all women- you aren't judge and jury. But if someone tells you, "I think the harsh treatment I'm receiving isn't serving a higher purpose," don't call that person weak and send your kids in behind them thinking they're going to have a different or better experience. Every one of us is complicit in a system that oppresses and abuses other people. We can stop doing that, too. It starts by centering these stories about the abuser, not the victim.
Salazar was a serial abuser of athletes who was protected by a team and funded by Nike. Please do not lose sight of that as you read this week's collection of stories.
"Mary Cain was treated badly; that much seems certain. But her claims could have been more credible with a full investigation behind them." This quote has been ringing in my head all week long; I explain why below.
Credibility: comprises the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message. Two key components: trustworthiness and expertise, each of which have objective and subjective components. - copied from Wikipedia, a source that lacks credibility just about everywhere despite influence that reaches twice as far.
Last Thursday, the NYT Opinion Page dropped a video bomb, launching *actual* investigations by journalists and governing bodies into Mary Cain’s allegations. All kinds of athletes are speaking out at the moment; their contributions have moved this story directly from ‘opinion’ to ‘news that must be investigated’. The chorus is being taken seriously, the claims aren’t being questioned, Mary isn’t under attack.
I’ve never seen anything like it.
“Credibility” is one of my trigger words. I remember preparing for mine to be assailed in court and permanently etched in public records before the internet was a thing. It is shockingly easy to dismiss anything, from people to physical evidence to videotapes, on the grounds of ‘lacking credibility’. In recent years, stories of women and whistleblowers speaking truth to power have been reported with disclaimers and caveats, planting little seeds of doubt into articles so outlets can retain the appearance of impartiality. We wait to hear the dirt on the accuser- that she has a book deal, that she is in massive debt, that she has struggled with mental health since childhood, that she has been bought off before, that she wants revenge or was rejected. The accuser has to be practically perfect in any way, or the claim crumbles and no one will look at the evidence.
The story is being reported with facts, dates and corroboration from witnesses alongside zero hits on Mary Cain or embarrassing 'facts' that undermine her credibility. She has massive amounts of public support without being required to be the most perfect-est victim ever. It feels a lot like a #metoo moment, like something bigger is happening.
At the same time, what will change? What needs to? How much more credibility do these accusations need? Why does Nike still have any? Why does Salazar? What is credibility, anyway and where does it come from?
This question strikes right at the heart of what makes running so unique, so special, so amazing, and so incredibly frustrating. The most egalitarian sport in the world, the only one we can pick up later in life and still potentially dominate, is destructive if your talent is discovered in youth.
Parents are pressured to introduce sports at a young age because as you age, on-ramps to the sport disappear. 28 is too old to find out you could have been a pro soccer player. Some would say that these days, 12 is, too. All coaches in sports with major leagues are aware of their place in the development pipeline, the power they have to grant or deny access to the next level. We hear about parents screaming about fairness, about coaches who won’t let their kids play, and the default assumptions we make tend to fall on the parents involved rather than the coaches.
This works when the coaches are doing their best and trying to be fair (and when the stakes are relatively low). How do you know when they aren’t, though? How do you prove it, and to whom? At what point are the stakes high enough that these accusations would matter? In lieu of an accountability system that addresses and rectifies issues of unfairness, all a person has left is their voice. If that powerless person uses their voice to scream, their credibility is reduced; we tend to conflate ‘screamers’ with ‘whiners’.
On a professional level, coaches who are in that pipeline are attached to an institution: high schools, colleges, NCAA, leagues, the AAU- the list is long but the number of available coaching positions is pretty small. Institutions, even those formed around the needs of athletes, are in the business of self-preservation. Their credibility, and their funding, is contingent upon winning. Complaints tend to fall on deaf ears: mess with a winning program, you mess with the money. You're lucky to be here, you are replaceable, there is the door.
Speaking of money, coaching doesn’t pay well. Even at prestigious institutions. And there just aren’t that many positions in running programs nationwide, so for many coaches walking away from a good job with decent pay at a credible institution could mean leaving the sport completely. Furthermore, we assume the biggest institutions hire the best coaches; that institutional backing is the source of the coach’s credibility. So the mere act of leaving a job in and of itself can impact your credibility. That credibility ding increases if a coach were to explain that they left because the job was actually terrible or that they worked for idiots.
If you stay, you are on the inside and are part of the problem. If you leave, you are now on the outside; your career and your credibility may never recover. Whistleblowers never had a chance. The house wins. Pro runners are surprisingly powerless.
When positions are scarce, we like to believe that the best (wo)man wins. Isn’t that the whole point of sports?
Salazar got major institutional backing by the firm with the most money and biggest reach and attracted the best talent in the world for years. The stories that are coming out about his tenure are impressively amateurish- why would any institution extend credibility to this guy? In terms of coaching skills Salazar is the equivalent of an Instagram Influencer.
Isn’t that supposed to be the difference between an expert and an influencer? Skills? Credibility? Expertise? Institutional backing? Isn’t credibility what we all strive for? How can we be taken seriously without it, how can we NOT trust people with it?
This question has haunted me for awhile. My second career was backed by a gym and facilitated by social media, so occasionally I feel like an imposter because my entire life has been lived outside that credibility-creating pipeline. I am good at what I do and know where I need to position myself, but to many I will never have as much credibility as a coach who is in-pipeline.
I tell you that to tell you this: My generation is seeing that the Emperor has no clothes, that the experts don’t know as much as they claimed, and that great people are still humans who can be petty AF. Maybe instead of asking what we can do to acquire credibility we need to ask what it takes for an institution to lose it...or objectively evaluate how much credibility an accuser needs in order to prompt an institution to change something that is obviously, openly, and unabashedly messed-up.
In the meantime, I’m here for the screamers, staring at an unfair system, wondering which changes we need and where to begin. ‘Tough Love’ is not ‘Good Coaching’, and by the way it’s not ‘a method’ it’s a last resort. Let’s leave psychology to the psychologists and stop accepting abuse. No matter how credentialed a coach may be, there’s never a good reason for a bad action in this sport.
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NOW for your Nuzzel News Outtakes!
Only ten articles will fit in my weekly Nuzzel; everything else worth reading is right here! Seriously, I read everything so you won't have to, but collect the links so you may.
These stories were the hardest to cut:
Top Story: Salazar and Nike's Legacy of Abuse
"Cain is calling on Nike to open itself to an outside investigation, whereby Nike would commit to turning over all the emails between Nike employees, members of the Nike Oregon Project members and outside doctors or consultants."
“Alberto told me he was kicking me off the team for having ‘the biggest butt on the start line,’” Yoder Begley said.
“In December 2008, (the year she made the Olympic team) he told me [my performance] was all a fluke and that I was too heavy. He said that to be on the elite level I needed to weigh less than I did,” says Begley, who is 5-feet, 4-inches tall and had just competed at the Beijing Games. “I weighed 114 pounds.”
“Whenever a female athlete is under-performing the first thing that’s picked up on is weight – it’s never anything else. I feel like it’s normalised. It causes people to suffer from body dysmorphia because they can’t then see what is normal and healthy.”
BEST OF THE WEEK
“We don’t do a good enough job educating our coaches and supporting them and putting the balances into contracts and systems—like the coaching group itself, the way USA Track & Field operates, or how sport scientists and medicine practitioners are held accountable.”
"It’s common for runners to ignore or downplay symptoms, Martinez said. Subtle, vague signs might not seem like a big deal at first. Athletes might also fear being sidelined from running. He recommends having a regular primary care physician who knows your running and health history, so you can easily call or book a quick visit to ask about new signs."
"...research points to a lower mortality rate among those who exercised during their treatment. One study even found that when those battling breast cancer got regular physical activity, they were less likely to relapse."
"The other tragedy in this is that Nike is by far the biggest corporate backer of track and field, sponsoring hundreds of stars and several national federations such as US Track and Field and UK Athletics. If it took its dollars away, the sport would be in an even bigger crisis. That gives Nike enormous potential power to do good, to admit any past failings and to promise to lead the way in instituting reform. Yet it has chosen the other way. And so still it stumbles and fumbles and fails."
"Eating disorders have the second-highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction. They have continued to increase for girls ages 15 to 22, which directly overlaps with the peak of adolescence, commonly spent in high school and college sports. Over one-third of N.C.A.A. Division I female athletes exhibit risk factors for anorexia nervosa."
" the Times op-ed piece bears the headline: “I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike,” thus tacitly suggesting that the most tragic thing about the way Mary Cain was treated was that it made her slower. From a narrative standpoint, it’s convenient when a coach’s abusive methods are mirrored in athletic decline; it allows us to turn a blind eye to some of the darker implications of elite sport. What if Cain hadn’t “run terrible”? Surely, the way she was treated would have been equally reprehensible if she had gone on to break a world record or medal in a World Championships. One difference, unfortunately, is that we might not be talking about it now.
ReBuilding and Injury
“'Once I let go and was like, ‘Yeah, I am injured,’ I wasn’t so stressed about being injured anymore,' [Kieffer] said. 'I just kind of let go of that and tried to figure out how to heal.'"
"Diaz found enjoyment in running again by embracing a more lighthearted, balanced approach to the sport. As she got back into training, she decided that she wouldn’t deprive herself of fun activities outside of running. Today, if she wants to go camping, take off on a long bike ride with friends, or hike a mountain, she does it because it makes her happy."
"Bodies look a lot of different ways. Athletes achieving at the highest levels often have developed very lean physiques. But this happened over the course of years, often a decade, of smart and conservative training that didn’t traumatize their body. Focus on the work your body can do, not what it looks like."
"Let’s talk about postpartum weight loss, or in my case, weight gain. There’s a bit of a myth that breastfeeding makes it easy to lose weight, and for some women this may be true. But I have always gained back some pounds 4-16 weeks postpartum.
"Fortunately, I believe the more devastating elements of Cain’s story, including her self-harm and suicidal thoughts resulting from her coach’s relentless focus on her weight, are not experienced by most runners. But the ethos that got her there is one that almost all runners are aware of and have experienced on some level. I’m referring to the culture of disordered eating and weight loss in the pursuit of becoming faster."
"One disconcerting side effect of trying to be healthier is that people feel way more comfortable commenting on your body than they ever did in the past."
"I’m a sucker for traditions and festive decorations, and you’ll hardly ever see me turn down candy pumpkins or Christmas ales. But this season also brings out a few of my least favorite things: Namely, the seemingly endless conversations around weight and calories, working out and dieting. Messages about “working off your Thanksgiving dinner” and “staving off holiday weight gain” appear in the articles you read, the TV shows you watch, the workout classes you take, and maybe even subconsciously in the social media you post."
As Seen On Our FB Pages
"After just missing the podium in her first World Marathon Major, Kiprop beamed with pride. 'I’m happy that I got fourth,' she said. 'It’s good money and I will use it to expand my school and to hire more teachers and staff. Even if I missed the podium, I know one day, one time, I will make it.'"
"It takes more than being in great physical condition to race two major marathons sandwiched around a national championship 10-miler in five weeks. It takes an uncanny amount of courage and belief."
In 1968, Puma was the Vaporfly 4%.
"For the next two years, even though her diagnosis was terminal, Chaoui responded well to treatment and continued to run as much as she could. She also became a fundraising powerhouse, running the Boston Marathon, starting a Thanksgiving road race in her hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts, and hosting a fashion show."
"A terrible mental space can ruin your race day experience. If I was able to talk to my past self before race day, I would've told her to do more things to relax my mind instead of tripping out about being a sponsored athlete who might fail with a bunch of onlookers."
"I think it’s a common misconception that people who are athletically inclined were born that way. I’m here to tell you the opposite. I don’t like sports. I actively hate football. Gyms make me visibly distressed. But I do like to run. And that makes me a runner."
Increased social media activity is said to play a major role in increasing the visibility of women’s sport, driving online engagement and generating conversations. Do NOT take your foot off the gas - keep reading, retweeting, sharing, and demanding better access!
Maintain has wind sprints this month YOU ARE WELCOME
"Happy Veterans' Day to all. Veterans everywhere in this country need more support than they are getting, so if there is an organization in your sphere doing good work, today is a great day to support them. Then again, so is every other day."
Coach MK and her Navy veteran husband donate to Project Headstrong and the USO. Our Marine friends are passionate about Wounded Warrior Project. Another terrific way to help veterans is to ask your HR Department about veteran hiring initiatives at your firm, and join a task force that recruits and prepares discharged veterans to enter the work force. If not, contact the USO and ask how you can start one at your firm!
"The (Western States) Board is now 40 per cent female, which is a step in the direction of gender equality at the oldest 100 mile trail-running race in the world."
Nothing To Do With Running
"Trust that Native people have expertise in being Native because of their daily lived experience and that they know more about Native heritage than non-Natives do."
"There also can be something disturbing about the lists. The first time I landed on one, I felt a jolt of voyeuristic delight. After two lists, I began to wonder if I, too, had time to organize my desk or record a podcast that day. By the third list, the mythical American work ethic had tied a knot of capitalist dread in my stomach, and I was thinking, I should be working harder."
Coach MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLC where she coaches all kinds of runners for $30 per month and gives marathon plans away for free. She LOVES being a hobbyjogger as well as a mom of 4 and thanks God every day for unanswered prayers #thankGodWeAreNotElite