October 4, 2019
For the first time* during a distance race last night at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships, NBC addressed the doping conviction of suspended Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar, and the way they handled it was simply unacceptable.
Sifan Hassan, who was coached by Salazar until his ban was announced early on Tuesday morning in Doha, was running the semi-finals of the 1,500, trying to make the final, as she attempts to become the first person to pull off the 10,000m/1,500m double. Hassan won the 10,000m last Saturday in historic fashion.
NBC announcer Leigh Diffey introduced Hassan and then announced Salazar’s suspension, adding that Salazar had his credential at Worlds revoked. Then NBC put up a graphic with a statement by Hassan saying how she was “shocked” by the suspension and “saddened” by the timing. Diffey then opened it up to his color commentator Craig Masbback by saying, “Craig, it’s big news.”
Masback then said, “Well it left her to make the key decision should she run the 1,500 meters or the 5,000 meters by herself as her coach had left town.” And that was it. The gun went off and it was never mentioned again.
The problem for NBC in all of this? Craig Masback is a prominent executive at Nike and the doping scandal has Nike’s name written all over it.
Nike not only funded (or helped fund) the legal defense of Salazar, but also helped fund and coordinate some of the defense of now fellow convicted drug cheat Dr. Jeffrey Brown. Masback’s boss, Nike CEO Mark Parker, was kept abreast of behavior by Salazar (testosterone experiments on his sons) that was deemed to be a doping violation. Parker issued an email to Nike employees saying, “I think it’s important that you know we looked into these allegations and did not find that he violated any rules.”
Presumably Nike will fund Salazar’s appeal.
There is no way Masback can be a neutral third party on this. Masback, the former head of USATF, is very high up at Nike. His title is Vice President, Sports Marketing/Greater China, Japan & Global Business Affairs at Nike, Inc. Think sponsorship deals in arguably Nike’s most important market for growth. He has no doubt been paid millions of dollars from Nike over the years, and his boss is tangentially linked to doping violations, yet none of this was disclosed on air.
Masback’s conflicts need to be revealed or he needs to not broadcast anymore from these championships.
Clip of how NBC handled situation:
We understand that NBC doesn’t want to devote tons of time to a depressing scandal during its broadcast but for Masback not to at least say he’s a Nike employee is poor journalism. When Diffey set him up with, ““Craig, it’s big news,” instead of punting and almost ignoring the topic, it would have been much better if he’d just been honest and said, “Yes it’s very big news and quite honestly news that’s tough for me to address as my full-time job is at Nike.”
*Update: We’ve gone back and watched Tuesday’s action when the men’s 800 was broadcast. Our staff in the United State didn’t recall hearing Salazar’s doping ban being mentioned at all during the men’s 800 final – quite odd considering the scandal had broken over night and two of the 8 finalists, Donavan Brazier and Clayton Murphy, were Nike Oregon Project team members. Brazier won America’s 1st-ever gold in the event and Murphy, who was directly coached by Alberto Salazar until he was banned the night before, finished last. There was no mention at all of the ban during the 800 coverag , even though Brazier talked about the Oregon Project in his post-race interview with Lewis Johnson.
When we first published this piece, we didn’t think Salazar’s ban had been mentioned at all until Thursday but now realize that was mentioned much earlier on Tuesday’s broadcast. When not much was going on, Leigh Diffey randomly addressed Salazar’s ban by reading a statement similar to the one mentioned on Thursday’s broadcast as shown below. Nike executive Craig Masback wasn’t on air and didn’t say anything about it.
The same above applies to the BBC and Paula Radcliffe. Radcliffe is receiving criticism for her comments below on the Salazar and Nike situation. Never once was it disclosed that Radcliffe is still sponsored by Nike and her husband now coaches Mo Farah; it makes sense that the BBC would receive complaints for this. (Full disclosure, LetsRun.com’s Weldon Johnson paced Paula Radcliffe to her first world record in the marathon).
Radcliffe’s conflicts of interest need to be disclosed.
As for her statements, Radcliffe did say, “I think [the ruling] was the right decision” which got lost in some of the “what about” stuff she said.
After saying the ruling was the right one, she immediately said, “How much money has gone into this investigation over the last four to six years? How much is going into research and development, into anti-doping and trying to improve the testing out there and really trying to protect the clean athletes out there?”
Our response is: how much money has Nike put into anti-doping? If they cared at all about being a leader for clean sport rather than exploiting the rules, Alberto Salazar wouldn’t be in the situation he is in today, banned from the sport.
Paula Radcliffe very soft on Alberto Salazar here. Defends athletes who went to work at NOP. Says Salazar was "found guilty of overstepping that line" as he looked to "find out where the limits lie". Also questions how much money was spent on the investigation by USADA. pic.twitter.com/9gCBFCbsOJ
— PJ Browne (@P_J_Browne) October 1, 2019