Over the weekend, I got an exciting invitation. I’ve long been operating around the people who make up the Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOC, and I’m broadly supportive of the reforms they are pushing for.
So when invited to add my name, I replied enthusiastically. Have I found myself agreeing with 100% of everything they have put forward? Of course not, but I find myself agreeing with quite a lot, and I’m not idealistic enough to subject them or anyone else to a purity test.
In the past few days, while i’ve been quiet in this space, I’ve also had some interesting conversations with people at governing bodies that I’ve often criticized. Much like Team Integrity, I sense there may be a thawing in relations. Perhaps there is room for cooperation in the near future. Time will tell.
Let me make clear why I’ve chosen to sign on my name, and respond to a few criticisms that I often hear for supporting such movements.
Athletes First as More Than A Slogan
I’ve seen firsthand how little agency athletes have in elite sport. It’s true that it is basically a worldwide problem, one being fought on many fronts. Even the USOC agrees at least that athletes have been underrepresented, although they have been slow to make any tangible changes to address that.
Team Integrity puts forward some common sense reforms that should be done yesterday. Of course the Athlete Advisory Council (AAC) should put forward direct representation on the USOC board. Of course the board should be at least 50% athletes, not “blazers” as Craig Lord so eloquently calls them.
In addition, I find myself nodding vigorously as I read the suggest reforms when it comes to the subject of whistleblower retaliation. I have been subject to such retaliation at multiple points at my own life. Sometimes I had the resources to combat it- other times I did not.
An office of inspector general would be a most welcome addition to the USOC (I would love to have one in our own NGB as well, as might be a trickle down effect of such a reform). I also support the adjustment of compensation and “house cleaning” of staff that is necessary to give everyone the confidence that things are truly moving in a positive direction.
I know that it is very unlikely that all of the reforms are going to be realized anytime soon. It is worth it in my eyes to push for what you truly believe.
One criticism I’ve faced that I’ve heard a lot lately has been that there are good people within the USOC and USA Swimming. I couldn’t agree more. I believe wholeheartedly that both organizations are staffed with people who absolutely understand the problems we face and earnestly want to solve them.
Unfortunately, organizations have a tipping point, one I do not think has been reached in either. They need more than just good people to thrive and do their best work. When I look across the political landscape, I see many people who I strongly disagree with, who I think support destructive policy, who I would nevertheless personally trust the lives of my family with.
It is impossible to criticize such organizations without the people inside taking it very personally. Likewise, it is almost impossible for them to respond to my criticism without getting riled up myself.
In the case of the current crisis within Olympic sports, I’ll hold on to one truth. I am not looking for the leaders who draw immense salaries to tell me that change is coming (or has come). I want the people who have been hurt to tell me. When they say "things have changed”, I will know they truly have. They are the people who have the bad fortune of the most complete understanding of the problem we face.
They are the ones who should be driving the solution, and they still aren’t.