President Obama Rips Ultra Successful Nike Oregon Project
Rush Limbaugh Rushes To Defense Of Ultra Successful Track & Field Program
April 1, 2010
UTICA, MI – President Barack Obama, in an attempt to build support for his economic agenda, drew attention to a heretofore low-profile sliver of the population yesterday, outlining the vast differences between the haves and have-nots of elite American distance running, and how they mirror those found in society at large.
Speaking at a Hanson’s Running Shop to a crowd of what Obama characterized as “hard-working, blue-collar American runners,” the President lauded the store’s proprietors, brothers Keith and Kevin Hanson, both as exemplars for how to run and grow a small business, and for the successes enjoyed by their Hansons-Brooks Distance Project.
The Project, which the brothers started in 1999, is a collective of elite distance runners who train and compete year-round, with a goal of representing the United States in international competitions such as the Olympics. The Project was self-funded until 2003, when the shoe company Brooks Running allied with the Hansons to provide funding and equipment for the team.
“Keith, Kevin, and their dedicated stable of runners are living proof that the American work ethic is as strong today as it has ever been,” Obama said.
After praising the Hansons, however, Obama pointedly criticized the Nike Oregon Project, a similarly minded outfit based in Portland, Oregon. Many in the distance running community feel that the Oregon Project, whose roster is a veritable who’s who of American running, enjoys an unfair advantage over smaller groups such as Hansons-Brooks, due primarily to the sizeable financial backing of its primary sponsor, the global shoe and apparel behemoth Nike.
“At a time when so many American runners risk getting a stress fracture because they can’t afford to buy a new pair of shoes, or no longer have enough time to run twice a day because they’re forced to work longer hours just to make their monthly mortgage payment,” Obama said, “the Nike Oregon Project continues to indiscriminately buy $75,000 anti-gravity treadmills and pay their runners huge sums to do nothing but run.
“That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful. And part of what we’re going to need is for the folks in Portland to show some restraint and show some discipline and show some sense of responsibility.”
Later, Obama preemptively addressed criticisms surrounding the efficacy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as the stimulus plan. After listing examples of small businesses such as Hansons Running Shop that have benefited from receiving stimulus funds, Obama emphasized that, with health care reform now behind him, his adminstration’s primary focus is getting the American economy back on track at the grassroots level.
“I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat-cat runners in Oregon.”
Obama’s remarks underscore how relations between his administration and the Oregon track community have deteriorated as the recession has dragged on. During his hard-fought race against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Primary, Obama openly courted the state’s distance running elite, making a campaign stop at that year’s Oregon Twlight track meet, where he congratulated event winners and playfully jumped over hurdles on the track.
When notified of Obama’s comments, Oregon Project head coach Alberto Salazar, himself a former world record holder in the marathon, was quick to defend his athletes, particularly when asked whether his team has too many anti-gravity treadmills at its disposal.
"Is it possible to run too fast? Is it possible to win too many U.S. titles?” Salazar rhetorically asked. “I don’t want people on this team to think that they have accomplished as much for themselves as they can and go on vacation. As the guardian of the interests of Nike and, by the way, for the purposes of society, we’re going to continue to do what we’re doing. I don’t want to put a cap on my runners’ ambition. It’s hard for me to argue for a cap on how many AlterG’s we buy."
Salazar, a devout Catholic, then stated that, for all the controversy, he views himself as nothing more than a coach who is “doing God’s work.”
As word of Obama’s Hansons speech spread, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh was quick to defend the Oregon Project.
“A lynch mob is expanding: the Gallowalkers with their pitchforks surrounding Hayward Field, demanding heads. All of this being ginned up by the Obama administration.”
Later, Limbaugh claimed, “Without the Oregon Project, US distance running will die. US distance running needs a whole bunch of runners being paid a whole lot of money, or else the sport will cease to progress in this country. Hansons is a cute story, but how many American records have they broken? Without the Oregon Project, it’s over . . . This – it’s just a populist ruse. It’s just designed for people to go, ‘Yeah! Yeah!’
“Only an idiot would criticize the Nike Project for being too successful. America is all about rewarding very handsomely those who can do something that no one else in society can do – like run 3:46 for the mile, 12:56 for 5k or 27:13 for 10k – feats all accomplished by Nike runners.”