Written by Alex Drude | 4 June 2012
Steve Prefontaine, right? Well, yeah. But you can say the same thing about Nick Symmonds. This Olympic-caliber runner is fighting the powers-that-be to get more rights for track athletes.
Pre's battle in the early 70s concerned the then sketchy term of 'amateur' athletics and track and field athletes being treated very poorly and not being paid for large meets - such as the Olympics- while those who put on those meets lapped up the cash.
Symmonds' fight is the next iteration of that one. Symmonds wants athletes to be able to contract out with smaller companies and wear that sponsor's logo - either on their uniforms or applied via temporary tattoos, as Symmonds is doing - that are at odds with an event's primary sponsors.
For an example, let's say the Corvallis Classic is sponsored by Coca-Cola, but an athlete competing there has a deal with A&W Root Beer. The current rules for many international competitions, including the Pre Classic say that the athlete couldn't wear a A&W logo during the meet.
The way some companies, say, Reebok, get away with having their logo on an athlete during a Nike event is because that's the name of the team for which the athlete competes. And if you denied Reebok the chance to even have a team compete at a Nike meet . . . well, soon Reebok would sponsor their own meets and not allow Nike athletes to compete, unarguably creating an incredibly slippery slope. Anyway, Symmonds' argument has to do with secondary sponsors of the athlete, not their primary one.
Symmonds has apparently been told that secondary sponsors would be considered a distraction . . . which is kind of hard to fathom. If the Corvallis Classic has Coca-Cola logos plastered all over the stands, on the field, in the hallways, at the concession stands, on the tickets, on the programs, on the tee-shirts . . . you're telling me a three-inch by three-inch A&W logo on an athlete's uniform would all of a sudden make fans think they want root beer instead of Coke? That's not a distraction, that's an inferiority complex for the primary sponsor.
The other argument has to do with making the uniforms for the event "too busy". The concern is that it will end up looking like a NASCAR outfit or a soccer jersey. I don't know what to think about that one . . . If you're going to make that argument, you might as well outlaw neon colors on the uniforms. How about that neon-laced full bodysuit that Allyson Felix wore during this year's Pre? You're telling me that wasn't more distracting than a Chrysler logo would be??? Because the truth is that's waaayyy more distracting than six three-inch by three-inch squares advertising cookies, tacos and tires.
It seems to me that Symmonds hopes that by having this rule changed, less well-known athletes will be able to run at some of these big international meets and be able to show themselves worthy of running with the big boys even though they don't have the backing.
The way I see it, Symmonds is trying to give the next "him" a chance. Symmonds graduated from Western Oregon and was given a chance to go big as the OTC Elite branch was developed. Symmonds repeatedly says that currently there was no real reason for him to be given such a chance because he did not come from a large school, even though he won the D-III 800 meter national title all four years at WOU and his 800 m time of 1:45.83 is still Number 1 in D-III history . . .
I figure that he wonders what would have happened to him had OTC not called. And if he got that chance, then other athletes from smaller schools - if OTC doesn't call - should have an opportunity to get sponsored by the local tire store/ candy shop/taco stand and be able to stand toe-to-toe with Nick Symmonds on the starting line, wherever the race may be.
And really, he's got a great point. I'm fairly certain that Pre would approve.