Sad: USATF Kicks Nick Symmonds Off Team USA For Worlds Instead of Defining What an “Official” Team Function Is
August 10, 2015
2013 World Championship 800m silver medallist Nick Symmonds has been left off USA Track and Field’s (USATF) team for the 2015 World Championships after he refused to sign a mandatory athlete Statement of Conditions that, among other things, outlines that athletes must wear official Team USA (Nike) gear at all official “team functions.” Symmonds received an email Sunday evening saying he had been left off the team, which will be officially announced Monday.
A major bone of contention for Symmonds was that the Statement of Conditions document did not define what an “official” team function was. That fact, in conjunction with the fact that USATF sent all Team USA athletes a letter telling them, to “pack ONLY Team USA, Nike or non-branded apparel” led Symmonds to believe “that USATF thinks every minute from the moment I leave my home is an official Team USA event.”
Symmonds told LetsRun.com, “Furthermore, history has shown that USATF feels every minute away from home is an official team event. In 2014 during the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, I was bullied and threatened by USATF employees every day for wearing Brooks gear. I know the way USATF acts, their behavior is shady, wrong, and it stops now.” Nick told the New York Times that USATF officials asked him to remove Brooks apparel while having coffee in the hotel at World indoors.
In an email to LetsRun.com Sunday night, Nick said, “I spoke with [USATF CEO] Max Siegel a few times over the phone [about this issue] and he was very supportive. In the end USATF refused to alter the Statement of Conditions in any way. The TFAA (Track and Field Athletes Association) is working with a lawyer to draft a new Statement of Conditions to present to USATF for use in future team selections.”
The media-savvy Symmonds had tweeted out Saturday afternoon, “USATF, Work with me to create a new Statement of Conditions. One that clearly defines at all terms and protects both USATF’s obligations AND the athletes’ rights. I am willing to sign a new and improved Statement of Conditions and represent my country in Beijing. I assure you I will NOT sign the Statement of Conditions as it is written now.” USATF did not take him up on his offer and instead left him off the team.
Symmonds told LRC Sunday night, “I am meeting with a lawyer tomorrow to discuss my options (about being left off the team).”
On being left off the team, Symmonds, a long-time advocate for athletes’ rights said in a tweet:
Proud to have stood my ground and fought another battle for athletes' rights. A huge thank you to the media and fans for all your support.
— Nick Symmonds (@NickSymmonds) August 10, 2015
He also had some more inflammatory words:
— Nick Symmonds (@NickSymmonds) August 10, 2015
which likely will center around how much money from USATF goes to Olympic-level athletes if this article by ESPN’s Darren Rovell is indicative of Symmonds’ line of thought.
Symmonds garnered some support from female USA 800m Champion Alysia Montaño on Sunday night, who tweeted this:
— Alysia Montaño (@AlysiaMontano) August 10, 2015
Quick Take: The parties involved should have figured out a way to get Symmonds on Team USA. USATF says the contract is standard and that athletes have signed for years, but their letter telling athletes to not pack any branded gear is ridiculous. Official team events need to be defined and outside of those, athletes should be able to wear whatever they want. USATF should have quickly defined an official team event, presented Symmonds a contract to sign and see what happened then.
Symmonds could have signed the existing contract and then while in Beijing, say at coffee in the hotel, “This is unreasonable and not an ‘official’ event. I will wear whatever I want to it” and gotten other athletes to join him. Instead he played his hand much stronger and will be watching Worlds from home.
Nick Symmonds is not the big loser in this. His brand will receive more attention not running Worlds than if he ran. And from an athletic standpoint, as crazy as it sounds, barring an unlikely medal at Worlds this year, Symmonds didn’t have a lot of upside from running Worlds. He got a silver medal last time, but this time enters as a huge underdog who easily could have not made the final. Symmonds is making a stand, but if Worlds was paramount to his athletic career right now, we think he wouldn’t have pushed this as far as he did.
If he is not put on the team by a judge, he can start to focus on Rio. An Olympic medal is one thing he doesn’t have.
In the meantime, track and field fans and Team USA suffer as Nick Symmonds is one of America’s best competitors.