#WeAreUSATF. Now It’s Time For The USATF Board To Act Like It

by: Weldon Johnson
March 13, 2015

Weldon Johnson is the co-founder of LetsRun.com and was 4th at 10,000m at the 2001 and 2003 USATF Outdoor Championships.

If you care about this issue, please take the time to do something about it. Tweet using @usatf #WeAreUSATF. Email people on the Board. Show them this matters.

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For a previous shorter LRC editorial on this issue, click here.

The USATF Board has a big decision this weekend. Will it serve the interests of the organization and honor the overwhelming choice of its delegates and nominate current IAAF Vice President Bob Hersh for the IAAF Council or will it serve its own interests and nominate its Chairwoman Stephanie Hightower to the IAAF Council?

The choice really is a simple one. In December at the annual USATF convention in Anaheim, the USATF delegates voted 392-70 (84.8%) for Hersh for the IAAF Council. Hightower got 15.2% of the vote. Such a landslide vote should not be overlooked outside of corruption or new evidence. Yet the Board voted 11-1 to nominate Stephanie Hightower. They can reverse that decision this weekend.

From its official statements, conversations I had with two Board members1, and the writings of those in support of the Board2, the (majority of the) Board gives the impression that the USATF delegates were misinformed when they voted 85% for Hersh and 15% for Hightower. I find that to be extremely condescending as the issues are not that complex.

If any side has shown itself to be misinformed, it is the Board. They have issued false statements in publicly defending their selection of Hightower. A simple way to pick between two differing sides is to pick the side telling the truth. There is no evidence the Board’s false statements were intentional, but in my mind it does show they are misinformed and entered this entire process with a desired result they are trying to justify after the fact.

The Board’s false statements:

  • “Bob Hersh was selected by Lamine Diack as Senior Vice President.” This is false, Hersh received the most votes of all the Vice Presidents, more than Seb Coe and Sergey Bubka who are both running for IAAF President currently, and the Council selected him as Senior Vice President. This may sound like a minor issue, but it shows how popular Bob is within the IAAF. The Board makes a big point that the delegates don’t know what is going on at the IAAF, yet it is the Board who does not know how the vote process works.
  • “Bob has served actively since 1999, but since that time there has not been a specific action at the IAAF that has actively advanced the interests of American athletes or teams.” This statement is almost preposterous without even having to think about it. It is so out of touch I think whoever wrote it did it with malicious intent and the rest of the Board agreed to it without realizing how misinformed it was. A few quick examples of Hersh advancing American interests. TrackTown USA President Vin Lananna issued a statement to LetsRun.com saying, “Bob Hersh, in his role as senior Vice President of the IAAF Council, was a trusted advisor as we navigated our way through the bid process for both meets (World Indoors and World Juniors),” Becca Gillespy Peter wrote Bob was instrumental in standing up for U.S. athletes in the logo size dispute versus the USATF national office, and USATF Youth Chair Lionel Leach told me Bob was his go-to guy in getting a change in the entry date for U.S. submissions for the World Youth Championships. This change in date let the U.S. start having a World Youth Trials for the first time which is one of the reasons that Leach said youth participation has gone from 53,000 to 86,000 for USATF. Hersh himself cites more examples here). Hersh is only one of 27 council members, but has clearly advanced USA interests.

The Board’s memo in its defense of its decision goes on to subtly try and throw out the idea Hersh may be linked to corruption at the IAAF as he is connected to the current, “old” regime. This is another place where I think the author had malicious intent. Citing Hersh as part of the “old guard” and acting like a completely “new era” is coming in is misleading and shows once again the Board may be the ones misinformed. Seb Coe has been on the IAAF Council for 12 years. Sergey Bubka has been on the IAAF Council for 14 years. Bob Hersh has been on it for 16 years. Hersh’s tenure on the IAAF Council is nearly the same as Coe and Bubka, the two candidates for President.

Does The Board Care At All What The Delegates Think?

Perhaps one reason the Board tries to contend that the delegates were misinformed (or not representative of people overall)while citing false information is because it would be political suicide to come out and say what they probably really were thinking, “We don’t care what the membership thinks (on this issue) even if they voted 100% to 0%.”4

Is that what the Board really thinks? On this case, unless they reverse course I would have to say yes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not questioning the intentions of the Board.5  A more generous reading is some of them think that way and the rest are following Stephanie Hightower in a terrible case of groupthink. Actions that support this view:

  • There was a special outside parliamentarian at the Law & Legislative (L&L) Committee  meeting, presumably paid for by USATF or the USATF Board, that among other things, was doing his best to try and make sure the amendment to let the USATF delegates select6 the IAAF nominee did not pass. What is so threatening about  letting the constituents you represent vote on the USATF nominee? Nothing unless you have a desired nominee already in mind without being open-minded.
  • Lionel Leach confirms before the final L&L meeting he had a private meeting with four other individuals he would not name that revolved around his support of the amendment to let the USATF delegates vote on the IAAF nominee. David Greifinger, the L&L member who led the push to let the USATF delegates vote on the IAAF nominee with the stated intention of keeping Hersh in his spot, and Curt Clausen, the one Board member to vote for Bob Hersh, both say Lionel told them after the final L&L meeting, that at this private meeting his committee (USATF youth) was offered things of value if he would drop his support of the amendment.  Neither David nor Curt has filed any sort of ethics complaint, and maybe this political horse trading is common, but it begs the very question: what is so threatening about letting the USATF delegates vote on the USATF nominee unless you have no intention of honoring their vote no matter the outcome?
  • Stephanie Hightower, in a letter to Tim Baker, refers to the Law and Legislative Committee as “my committee.” It is not her committee. The L&L Committee, just like the Board, is supposed to serve all of USATF. The mindset that something is yours implies you don’t care what others think.

Hightower’s highly inappropriate letter to Baker brings us to a much simpler explanation as to why the delegates may have voted 84.8% for Hersh and 14.2% for Hightower: They know Hightower very well and no longer want her representing them. Why might the membership that twice elected Hightower as president be fed up with her presidency? There have been major incidents that have left athletes and members feeling they have no voice and USATF does not listen to them or follow its own rules. Just since the start of 2014:

  • There was the indoor DQ controversies at USATF indoors that got national attention with athletes taking the unprecedented step of walking off the track on national TV. More importantly, besides the controversy of the DQs themselves, the issue took 10 months to resolve and USATF rules were not followed. USATF got its desired outcome regardless of the rules.
  • Convicted dopers Dennis Mitchell and Damu Cherry were appointed by the Board to coach the USA World Relays teams in 2014. Once again USATF rules were not followed as they call for the Executive Committee to select the coaches with Board approval, but in this case the head coaches “were hired by the national office” and presumably approved by the Board.
  • The Long Distance Committee voted unanimously for the Olympic Marathon Trials to be in Houston because the prize money was more than in LA. This was ignored by the National Office and the Trials awarded to LA (although eventually the prize money was made equal).

The Olympic Trials decision is the only one with a possible business motive. The other two fall squarely in the realm of USATF putting on fair competitions that reflect the ideals of its members and those things rest right on the volunteer side of things, which is headed by Stephanie Hightower. Throw in her intimidating letter to Tim Baker as evidence of her style and the members may know her too well.

There is no arguing the business side of USATF is doing better. On the volunteer side of things, capricious decisions have left many feeling they have no voice. Rules have been overlooked, unfair competitions have been held, and now the president of USATF is referring to a committee as “my committee.”

The Board’s decision is a perfect example of group think. They had a desired outcome in mind and now are coming up with rationalizations to justify it. Steve Miller asked if I had polled people on the issue. What more of a poll do you need than 85% to 15% of the delegates? Rather than assuming 392 people did not know what they were voting about or weren’t representative of the USATF population at large, we at LetsRun.com assume the simpler explanation — they knew exactly what they were voting about. Since the Board vote five local USATF associations have gone to the trouble to write letters to the Board asking them to reverse their decision, and a sixth has written a thoughtful letter objecting to the decision and trying to prevent it in the future, and the Athletes Advisory Committee has come out saying they want Bob Hersh to be the nominee.

Board member Steve Miller told me, “It’s a very complicated issue.” Actually it is pretty simple. USATF’s marketing slogan is #WeAreUSATF. It’s time to act like it. The Board needs to appoint Bob Hersh as the USATF nominee to the IAAF Council.

*Discuss this article here

If you care about this issue, please take the time to do something about it. Tweet using @usatf #WeAreUSATF. Email people on the Board. Show them this matters.


As I said in the article, I don’t question the motives of the Board members. All of them I spoke to said with new information they would reconsider their votes.

1 Board member Steve Miller told me on the phone, “I suggested it was done with limited information … I am saying the two groups (the Board and the delegates) voted on this issue. Each group may or may not have had part or all of the information. … [a difference in] information may have created this chasm.” He also said, “You are making the assumption that because people care about something… anything (he cited political examples like immigration) … that they are informed.” Both Hightower and Hersh were given three minutes before the Board to present their cases, but did not make presentations to the general delegates. That seems to be the difference in information between the Board and the delegates. Board member Fred Finke, who described himself as “an individual who has not been a fan [of Stephanie]” said of the presentations, “I can tell you when the presentations were made there was never a question [as who to vote for].” Curt Clausen, the lone Board member who voted for Bob, viewed things differently, “You have a very informed membership and two very well known members (Stephanie and Bob) who have served the sport for a very long time. … and 85% of the membership went one way … and I didn’t see a compelling reason to go against the membership.”

2 Alan Abrahamson wrote, “The memo marks the next step in what has been a controversial, and misunderstood, process stemming from the 2014 USATF annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.”

3 Steve Miller was asking me if I had polled people to see what they thought on the issue. I was getting a bit defensive as I had not and then I realized “What more of a poll do we need than 85% of the delegates voting for people?” He then threw out the argument that the vote was late at the convention and not everyone was there so it may not have been representative. I don’t think this holds up. If for some bizarre reason, 100 more people walked through the door and they all voted for Hightower, she still would have lost 392-170.

4 Ultimately, the Board does answer to the membership as the membership, if it gets behind something, can change the bylaws of USATF or the people in power. As Board member Steve Miller acknowledged to me, “If people are not satisfied … the body has the right to change those things.” This whole fiasco could have been avoided if the membership had just made the rule saying a 2/3 vote of the membership cannot be overturned by the Board, essentially acting like U.S. Congress.

5 I’ve interacted with Board Member Fred Finke on multiple occasions. I’ve heard good things about Steve Miller and he told me, “I do this for the Board simply because I love the sport… I coached high school, grade school, college.” Board Member Bill Shelton said he’d gladly meet with me in LA and told me he “abstained from the first IAAF vote because as a new board member was not fully versed on the candidates. Since that initial vote, I’ve had conversations with Stephanie, Bob, and with my constituency and will vote at this board meeting.” These people clearly care about our beloved sport.

6 The Board keeps saying the delegates only recommended someone to the Board to be on the IAAF Council. However, I don’t think that is accurate as because unless 2/3 of the Board objected the delegates’ nominee was going to be the USATF nominee to the IAAF. So I think it more accurate to say the Board could veto the delegates’ selection with a 2/3 vote and select their own person.

One more note: My friend and mentor Alan Abrahamson wrote, “The USATF board voted to put forward federation chairperson Stephanie Hightower for the IAAF council slot at elections next year despite a floor vote for Bob Hersh. This produced raw emotion. Why? Sexism? Racism? Petty personality politics? Some combination of all three? Or something altogether else? ” No, the answer is simple. 85% of people had their vote ignored. I can’t think of a representative system that does that.

If you care about this issue, please take the time to do something about it. Tweet using @usatf #WeAreUSATF. Email people on the Board. Show them this matters.

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