Rodansky athletes social change


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Rodansky athletes social change

  1. 1. ACTIVISM WITHIN SPORTS The experience of a whistleblower in an American Olympic NGB Eva Rodansky
  2. 2. What is “within-sport” activism? • Taking a stand against treatment of athletes, within one’s own sport, that is exploitative or in any way harmful, by authority figures of that sport’s national governing body (NGB). • Speaking truth to power.
  3. 3. Activism in US Speedskating
  4. 4. How have Olympics fans perceived speed skating? • A pure, time-trial sport • Effort = reward • Wholesome, Midwestern values • A close-knit, “family” sport • Great champions (Eric Heiden, Bonnie Blair, Dan Jansen, Apolo Ohno, Shani Davis)
  5. 5. Recently Exposed Problems in US Speedskating • Physical, mental, and emotional abuse of athletes by National Team coach • Skate sabotage under pressure from coach • Sexual abuse of athletes • Poor governance • Lack of financial transparency • Drastic underperformance at 2014 Olympics in Sochi • Labeled “the most dysfunctional” sport in Sochi
  6. 6. Bridie Farrell, a speed skater who, at age 15, was molested by former Olympian and USS President Andy Gabel, insisted that Gabel be removed from the Speedskating Hall of Fame. Bonnie Blair, a member of U.S. Speedskating’s Hall of Fame Committee, replied, “Other sports Halls of Fame have convicted felons in them.” -USS Spring Membership Meeting, Hall of Fame Committee, May 2013 An Example of US Speedskating Culture In Action
  7. 7. Overview • “Problem NGBs” have lost sight of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism. • Describe the culture of these organizations. • My experience as a US Speedskating athlete and activist. – Examples of conflict – Pressures faced by activist athletes – Methods used – What was accomplished – What remains to be done
  8. 8. Fundamental Principles of Olympism • Sport, culture, and education • Joy of effort • Social responsibility • Respect for fundamental ethical principles • No discrimination • Friendship and solidarity • Fair play • Good governance
  9. 9. …Contrast with the Culture of U.S. Speedskating • No place for independent, critical thinking • Leadership looks the other way while coaches sleep with athletes • “Joy of effort” is killed by abusive coaching • Athletes treated as “expendable” • Attitude of “insiders vs outsiders” • Abuse of “unfettered discretion” in team selection • Governance out of compliance with federal law (Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act)
  10. 10. Healthy NGB Structure Principles of Olympism Grassroots Development Elite Athletes -Coaching -Sports Science -Officials -Events -Sponsorship -Media -Talent ID -Clubs NGB Leadership Structure Goals: Winning, growth of the sport Values: Safety, fair play, fun
  11. 11. Unhealthy NGB Structure “Gang of 4” B.O.D. and Staff Media, fans, sponsors Appearance of “Olympism” Athletes (Adversely affected by their own NGB) Characterized by: Moral relativism with an underlying motivator of greed VIP treatment Status advancement (IOC) Access to sex Abuse of power Squash dissent Exert control over
  12. 12. 1988 1992 1994-95 2001 2006 2010 2012 2013 2014 Club 1993 Elite skating NT Retirement Lab 2002 2003 2004 Timeline of my speed skating career Blog Major falling-out with USS at end of my years as a Junior 2006 Olympic Team selection corrupt and subjective Book
  13. 13. Why and how I was blackballed by US Speedskating at age 17 • I moved to Salt Lake with 6 other skaters to train with a coach who promised to train us. • The oval never opened that season, and the coach abandoned our team, as well as the developmental clubs he had set up. • I wrote to USS to ask for help, on behalf of myself, my team, and the local kids’ clubs. • The USS president called my host parents and said, “Eva Rodansky is a no-talent troublemaker looking for someone to blame for her failures.” • Decided to go to college and grad school. When I came back, 6 years later, some skaters called me “the notorious” because of the way USS talked about me in meetings.
  14. 14. Comeback and Struggles • Resumed training in January 2001. • Made my first World Cup team in the fall of 2001. • Lack of funding was my #1 struggle. • For most of my competitive years, I worked in a biotech lab 22 miles away from the Oval, about 25 hours per week (in addition to 30-40 hours of training).
  16. 16. Exploitation of Athletes’ Labor “According to their Mission Statement, “The vision of the USOC is to enable America’s athletes to realize their Olympic and Paralympic dreams. It just seems ethically questionable that this charity’s mission allows for the exploitation of... athletes’ labors to create such considerable wealth for so many executives and administrators while leaving such a difficult financial path for the athletes themselves." ~Nathan Ikon Crumpton (U.S. Athletic Trust) Because of the athletes’ big dreams, they are easily exploited!
  17. 17. “So, you’re all set, then?” $96 per month
  19. 19. Example #1: “Sold Behind Our Backs” • When Andy Gabel was USS president, he negotiated a sponsorship deal for the team with Qwest (a phone company). • Made deal without involving the athletes. • No additional funding for athletes. • Gabel tried to force top skaters to back out of individual sponsor deals. • Major conflict between top skaters and NGB leadership. • Loss of team sponsor.
  20. 20. Example #2: The Team Director’s “Female Athlete Problem” • An“open secret” that the long track high performance director was having an affair with one of the female national team skaters. • A 20-year history of romantic involvement with athletes he coached. • The USS leadership knew about this and did nothing. • 2002-06: He was the main person responsible for talent ID and Olympic Team selection, and got to make decisions between his mistress and her rivals. • Fired after 2006, in part for his role in destroying the women’s long track team.
  21. 21. Example #3: The National Team “Experiment” • 2003-04 season: The National Team coach admitted to overtraining our team intentionally. • “For the purpose of collecting data.” • “With no concern for individual results.”
  23. 23. How USS Discourages Complaints • Breakdown of due process. • Delay tactics. • Abuse of team selection subjectivity against “subversive” athletes. • “You tell your story in the media, and we’ll make sure the media never cover your career again.” (Yes – they have made this threat, and have the power to make it happen.) • Depoliticizing athletes who had complained in the past. • USS leadership tearing down certain athletes’ and coaches’ reputations in the media. (Most recently during Sochi 2014).
  24. 24. Forces Preventing Athletes from Whistleblowing • Fear of retaliation from NGB. – A threat to their image in the media – Conflict is a major energy cost • Responsibility to people helping them: Family, coaches, teammates, sponsors, the NGB itself. • Loyalty to a particular individual. • Desire to keep friendships and positive memories of the sport. • Those whose voice would have the greatest impact also have the most to lose!
  25. 25. Why did I do it? • Inspired by life experiences and people outside the sport. • Belief that doing the right thing is more important than winning. • IN SPEEDSKATING, I WAS EXPENDABLE. Things in USS were so wrong, and so unfair, that I knew I would never have the speedskating career I wanted and knew I deserved. So, I decided to use my career in the sport as a way of trying to reform it, to make it better for those who would come after me.
  26. 26. Role of the Activist Athlete • Know the pattern of behavior by the NGB against athletes. • Have confidence in your own athletic abilities. • Tell your story – To educate others – To make connections with like-minded people – Work towards reform
  27. 27. Role of the Activist Athlete • The actual ability to make reforms may depend on factors beyond the athlete’s control. • Share your story to help the next generation of athletes and their parents. • Turn a negative experience into something meaningful that helps others.
  28. 28. ACTIVISM WITHIN SPORTS PART 2 Speaking Truth To Power Eva Rodansky
  29. 29. Review: Sources of Conflict Between Athletes and National Governing Body • Rankings or team selection • Athlete sponsorship rights • National Team coach/athlete conflict • Referee decisions • NGB’s denial of benefits earned • Private teams in conflict with NGB decisions
  30. 30. Mechanisms of Complaint • Talk to athlete representative (to USS Board or AAC) • Write letter to NGB leadership • Present concerns at the annual Membership Meeting • File a Code of Conduct against offending individual • File a Grievance • Contact the USOC Athlete Ombudsman • Contact the USOC SafeSport representative • File a Section 9 with the USOC (Denial of the right to compete in a protected competition) – Section 9’s are expedited due to time constraints • File a Section 10 with the USOC (NGB out of compliance with the Sports Act)
  31. 31. Athlete Perceptions of the Mechanisms of Complaint • Many athletes are not informed as to how they can stand up for themselves. • Perception that these methods are ineffective at best, and lead to retaliation, at worst. • When I was competing: – Tried bringing concerns to membership meeting, going to athlete rep, and writing a letter. – Did not believe that filing a Grievance or Section 9 would be effective. – Would have liked to know that there are Sports Law attorneys willing to help amateur athletes pro bono.
  33. 33. The Protocol
  34. 34. The Protocol: Major Topics Covered • Image vs. reality of elite athlete funding. • How USS is run like a private club to benefit a few while excluding others. • The extent of the subjectivity and favoritism USS has worked into a supposedly “pure” sport of racing against the clock.
  35. 35. Benefits and Results of Blogging • Learned that I was not alone. • Gained allies and mentors. • “You said things that needed to be said about US Speedskating for years, but nobody had the guts.” • But…I also put myself at risk for retaliation – Coach who traveled with the team was told, by his bosses, not to work with me. – My agent was denied a press pass to a competition and was told, “Nobody cares about your athlete.” – Could count on being left off the Olympic Team if it was close (due to the subjectivity of the selection criteria).
  36. 36. Book Published in 2010 • Requested by fans of The Protocol. • Positive response from younger skaters and parents. • Threatened with lawsuit in 2012 by a USS official I wrote about. • Boycotting short track skaters asked me for advice.
  37. 37. Athletes for a Positive Training Environment (APTE) • 2012: About 2/3 of the short track National Team boycotted the program because of abuse by their coach. • They had tried bringing their concerns to the USS Board, and going to the USOC Athlete Ombudsman. No response. • I connected them with attorney Edward Williams, one of the original authors of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act.
  38. 38. APTE and Supporters’ Reform Work • A Grievance was filed against USS by some 20 athletes and supporters, detailing USS’s noncompliance with the Sports Act (August 2012). • Abusive coaches resigned under pressure before the fall World Cups. • The breaking of the Andy Gabel sex abuse scandal in March 2013 forced the USOC to step in. (Chicago Tribune article) • Complainants filed a Section 10 against USS with the USOC; settlement agreement in fall of 2013.
  39. 39. APTE’s Strengths and Limitations • A united group supported by an expert in the field (Ed Williams). • Hundreds of thousands of dollars of work (Ed did pro bono on the athletes’ behalf; USS paid their attorneys). • The USOC still would not have acted if it hadn’t been for scandals breaking in the media.
  40. 40. Hope for Reform? • The USOC does not hold its NGBs accountable, and the athletes (and their attorneys) have had to force NGBs to comply with federal law! • Congressional investigation led by George Miller (D- California) into organizations that serve youth sports. • Focuses on sexual abuse of athletes by authority figures of these sports. • Congress may step in and force the USOC to do a better job of protecting athletes. • If NGBs were forced to cover athletes’ legal fees, they might clean up their act.
  41. 41. Where is “Olympism?” • Athletes learn the hard way that “Olympism” is just a thin façade with NGBs like US Speedskating. • Mechanisms for protecting athletes have broken down: Non-responsiveness and retaliation. • Pressure from Congress and from the media is needed for meaningful reform.
  42. 42. Acknowledgements Edward Williams Nancy Hogshead-Makar APTE Levi Kirkpatrick Carl Cepuran Jack Jayner Stephanie Lambert