USATF kicks top Olympic hopeful off the team for not succumbing to Nike

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Your weekly reminder that Nike, and pretty much any sports’ governing body, is the devil.

By Andrew Pridgen

American middle-distance runner and current national 800-meter champion Nick Symmonds was dumped from the U.S.A. Track & Field roster over the weekend as the team heads to the IAAF World Championships. The reason: He refused to violate his contract with Brooks Running by kowtowing to the USATF’s deal with Nike.

Last January, Symmonds signed a contract to run for Brooks after ending a seven-year relationship with Nike. Symmonds believes that by signing the USATF’s mandatory sponsorship rules known as a statement of conditions, he would violate his contract with Brooks.

He did not sign and was instantly replaced.

Last year, the USATF inked a deal with the Beaverton-based shoe giant through 2040 without notice or respect to individual athletes’ current endorsement deals. In exchange for rocking the swoosh on or near every orifice and extremity possible, Nike provides significant funding for Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

…Though the deal does not take into account the individual financial needs of athletes.

While Symmonds has acknowledged he will comply with the USATF’s deal with respect to wearing Nike during competition, he questions the veracity of the governing body’s mandate to dump his current sponsor altogether. The statement of conditions ensures all members wear designated Nike team gear at functions and extends all the way to his suitcase: stipulating Symmonds can’t even pack Brooks on his carry-on.

Symmonds and athletes like him are solely compensated by their sponsors. They don’t play for professional leagues or teams so basically they have to eat what they kill when they train—and a big chunk of that is through individual sponsorships and endorsement deals.

Warren K. Zola, an attorney specializing in sports law and executive director of the Boston College Chief Executives Club at the Carroll School of Management, wrote Monday, “If the USATF can quash that value by assuming exclusivity for themselves, what happens to other Olympic athletes and their endorsement value?”

Endorsement deals like the one Symmonds has with Brooks is predicated on visibility. Every picture of Symmonds wearing Brooks in a magazine, on Twitter, on Instagram or in a newspaper comes with a bounty. If the brand doesn’t get exposure, Symmonds (and athletes like him) does not get paid.

Because US Olympic athletes do not have a union, there is no collective bargaining arm and no representation that tells the USATF and similar organizations for swimmers, weight lifters, gymnasts…and curlers to suck it when illegal contracts are imposed.

In the meantime, it’s the athletes, the spectators—and the home country—who lose. The Olympics used to be about the illusion of amateurism until that became unsustainable for the American athlete to stay competitive. Now, unfortunately, it’s about something even more sinister—indentured servitude and “voluntarily” succumbing to corporate greed—or run the risk of being replaced.

 

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