Philip Hersh

Thoughts at tax time of $26 million budgets


The mind wanders as our friends at the U.S. tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, prepare to say thanks ever so much for the notion of taxes being the mark of civilization, or something. In that spirit, here are 10 things to think about: 1. You want to get serious, really serious, in the anti-doping campaign? Let’s see governments step up their financial support of the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA's annual budget is roughly $26 million. For comparison, that’s annual revenue of the sort the university athletic departments at Texas-San Antonio or New Hampshire work with, according to a USA Today survey. Let’s see what might happen were WADA to run with money along the lines of annual athletic department revenues at Oregon ($196 million), Texas ($161 million) or Michigan ($157 million), the top three in that survey. And here’s a telling stat: Ohio State’s athletic department received more in donations than WADA’s entire budget — $28.2 million of its $145.2 million annual revenue.

Maria Sharapova bidding to control the narrative at a March 7 news conference in LA, announcing her positive test for meldonium // photo Getty Images

2. Who believes the tennis star Maria Sharapova? Really? With now more than 100 positive tests for meldonium in all kinds of sports?

3. You hear over and again that the role of anti-doping agencies is to protect the rights of clean athletes. If that’s true: how do you bar the entire Russian track and field team from Rio when, presumably, some on that team are clean?

4. They open the Main Press Center in Rio. But — is this a sign of how these Games are going to go  — the press isn’t allowed in to cover the opening?

Kobe Bryant at the 2008 Beijing Olympics // photo Getty Images

5. Outside the 1992 Dream Team, is Kobe Bryant — whose last game as a Los Angeles Laker is Wednesday — the most important figure in USA Basketball’s Olympic history? Or is it Doug Collins, with those clutch free throws at the 1972 Games? Or — who?

6. With apologies to the creators, who purportedly have “poured their hearts and souls into their designs,” all four would-be Tokyo 2020 emblems are legitimately terrible. One looks like the conflation of hallucinogenic mushrooms and someone’s brain (“D,” “flowering of emotions”). One of the Paralympic logos evokes — unfortunately — nothing so much as Donald Trump’s hair (“B,” “connecting circle, expanding harmony”). Please, can the soulful designers keep at it?

7. It is now a year since SportAccord imploded. Isn’t it time to acknowledge the obvious — that Marius Vizer was right? Disagree all you want — if you want — with the way he said what he said. But who quarrels with the substance?

8. The Australian swim Trials just went down. Look out, Rio: 21-year-old Cameron McEvoy went 47.04 to win the men’s 100, the fastest time ever in a textile suit. That is just 13-hundredths outside Brazilian Cesar Cielo’s world record of 46.91, set at the plastic suit-dominated 2009 world championships in Rome. Check out a video of the race:

9. Alysia Montaño, the U.S. 800-meter runner, went off at the recent U.S. Olympic Committee media summit, saying, “Once a doper, always a doper.” Then, when asked by the veteran Chicago-based sports writer Philip Hersh if Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay — both of whom have served time for doping — should be allowed to compete in Rio, she said, "No.”

Alysia Montaño surrounded by reporters at the USOC media summit // photo Getty Images

LaShawn Merritt posing for a portrait at the same USOC summit // photo Getty Images

Besides the sweet team spirit that ought to engender, there’s this: what about the notion of redemption? Further, doping matters tend to be complex; they do not necessarily lend themselves to a binary, all-black or all-white, sort of resolution. At issue, typically, are different — 50? — shades of grey. If it’s one thing for Athlete X or Y to do time for, say, illicit steroid use, what about the case of LaShawn Merritt, the U.S. 400-meter champion, who was busted for ExtenZe, a different sort of performance enhancer? He bought ExtenZe at a neighborhood 7-Eleven. “I spent $6 and it cost me millions of dollars,” amid a 21-month suspension, Merritt once said. Putting aside the legal formalities and the practical realities — these include double jeopardy concerns and human rights considerations noted by tribunals in rejecting the idea of most lifetime bans — there are moral and ethical matters, too: on what grounds should Merritt be out forever? Answer: none.

10. The underlying big-picture purpose of the Olympic movement is to move the world, little by little, day by day, toward peace. What does it say about the terrible, awful disconnect in our broken world when a teen-age suicide bomber blows himself up at a boys’ soccer game in Iraq? What, if anything, is sport to do when sport itself becomes the target? The death toll: 43, 29 of them boys who had been playing in the game or watching their friends. “It was a children’s soccer game. Of course he knew he was going to kill children,” said a local sheikh. Please read this harrowing account from the Washington Post. Then ask: how do we — all of us with a conscience — stop our children from killing and being killed?

New USATF CEO: Max Siegel

USA Track & Field announced Monday that Max Siegel, the marketing consultant it had hired last October, was now its new chief executive officer. Can't say that's much of a surprise.

The question, as ever with track and field in the United States, is its future. During the last week of the Olympic Games, it commands TV time and headlines; the rest of the time, not so much.

Years ago, though, track and field used to be a major sport in the United States. Now it's not. Can it ever be again?

The corollary question for the people who run track and field in the United States -- not Siegel but the people he now will have to deal with on a day-to day, real-life basis -- is whether they will let him do his job.

Here's my dream for the sport: The U.S. Olympic Trials in Cowboys Stadium, with 100,000 people jamming the place, night after night. Why not?

Here's Siegel's mantra: to make a difference in American culture, with the idea of  competition on the field impacting lifestyle, and -- as he put it in a conference call with reporters -- to "over-deliver" to corporate partners "on their expectations."

Siegel takes over from Doug Logan, fired in September, 2010. USATF has been without a chief executive since; Stephanie Hightower, the federation president, had let it be known in an interview with the Chicago Tribune's Philip Hersh that she might be interested in the position, which of course proved problematic.

University of Oregon coach Vin Lananna reportedly emerged as a top candidate for the position. He's still in Eugene.

All the while, Mike McNees, USATF's chief operating officer, a wholly decent guy, was left to run the ship as interim CEO.

Skeptics, of course, will suggest that the hire of Siegel is proof that no one else wanted the USATF chief executive's job.

You know what's great about covering this kind of thing in track and field? You can't spell dysfunctional without f-u-n!

To the credit of the U.S. athletes -- all they do is go out and win. They pretty much ignore this stuff at the world championships and the Olympics. The U.S. team won 25 medals at last summer's world championships at Daegu, South Korea, one shy of the 26 won by the 1991 and 2007 teams.

Even so, everyone close to the sport understands that better governance might lead to even better results on the field of play.

Logan had said all along that 30 in 2012 was eminently do-able.

To his credit, Siegel said Monday on a conference call with reporters, "We have said 30 medals. And we are sticking by 30 medals."

Getting to 30 medals takes contributions from both the business and culture sides of USATF. That takes a profound understanding. That's what Siegel has been doing since October, taking what he called a "deep dive" into the organization, doing a "lot of the foundational and behind the scenes" work.

That sort of understanding, Hightower said on that same conference call, is what made him an attractive candidate.

Along with the fact that Siegel is truly an idea guy; that he has big-time credentials in auto racing and the music industry; as well as experience and contact in the Olympic scene as a member of the boards of U.S. swimming and USATF.

The perception glitch all along, of course, had been that Siegel had been on the USATF board -- until resigning just a month before -- before being hired as a consultant.

Hightower emphasized that he was not on the board when selected. Steve Miller, a USATF board vice-chair, said on the call, "Perception can go two ways. It can be seen as a negative and as a, why not? What we tried to concentrate on is, why?

"… We feel confident we went through the process … and Max simply was the best candidate."

The hire takes effect May 1. His base salary will be $500,000. He also can earn bonuses, Hightower said on the call without providing details.

Siegel notably becomes the only African-American chief executive among the more than three dozen national governing bodies in the United States.

U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun issued a statement that said, "Our relationship with USA Track & Field is very good, and we are particularly pleased with the partnership that we have with them on the high performance side. Having a CEO in place will add a measure of stability as we complete our preparations for London. Max will have our full support and we look forward to working with USATF as they continue to refine their governance model and find ways to enhance the effectiveness of the organization."

Candidly, the USOC -- which for years set the standard for dysfunction -- is arguably now the model for good governance. The USOC board, under the direction of Larry Probst, sets policy and then lets Blackmun run the organization day-to-day.

That's the way things need to go down now at USATF. On the call, they said all the rights things Monday. They said Siegel would have authority.

Hightower said on the call, "We want to become a model NGB as it relates to best practices and model governance," Hightower said on the call.

"I don't want to say we're going to agree on every single aspect on how this organization is going to be run."

She also said, "We trust Max's leadership to move us forward."

Hightower said the time of "chaos" -- "that time is gone, it's over."

One might hope of course that the U.S. relay teams hold on to the baton at the 2012 Games. But should the stick clatter to the ground, could one predict chaos? Would it really be over?

Time, as ever, will tell.