Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Other Sandy Victims

With the ING New York City Marathon being cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy, I have seen comments that recreation such as the marathon is inappropriate in the aftermath of Sandy. However, it's not recreation for elite athletes; it's their job. They've already put in their months and months of work, and now they won't see a paycheck for it (and even if NYRR gives them an appearance fee, they'll still only see a fraction of what they may have been counting on). Plus, some may see decreased salaries or appearance money for 2013 because they were banking on having a fast marathon time from 2012. These people only have two or three opportunities to be paid per year. If you did your job faithfully for months, then are told you wouldn't be receiving over half of your 2012 salary and that you'd be taking a pay cut for 2013, you'd be incensed. Toni Reavis states that running is a sport taken up by the top 20%, a figure I find hard to believe. Running is not golf, tennis, or triathlon, all sports which require expensive equipment and are dominated by rich nations. Running is a sport that is often used by Africans to escape poverty, and is a sport in which most elites are living at or below the poverty line. By cancelling their day to work, we have taken away something far more important than "recreation."

And if it's truly about "perceived recreation," then why are the Giants and Knicks continuing to play? I understand that they take up less resources from the city, but they still do require money, food, and blocked roads from spectators, and it is clear that there is an inequality present, where some people are allowed to do their job and others are not. It's admirable that Heat player Dwyane Wade will be donating money to Sandy victims, but you also have to remember that he is in a financial position to do that. Professional runners do not make the kind of money that professional football and basketball players do, and while missing one paycheck for someone making millions may not be a big deal, missing one paycheck for someone who only receives two or three per year can be devastating. Most professional runners are barely making enough money to support themselves, and any opportunity they had to contribute financially may be gone. From Sports Illustrated: "Abdi Abdirahman, a Somalia-born American and four time U.S. Olympian, was planning to donate $10 per mile he ran to Sandy relief, and to ask everyone he knew to do the same, and also to ask his corporate sponsors to contribute. 'Now I can't do that,' he said."

I am not from New York City, and will not speculate as to whether not diverting resources from the marathon is worth the loss of economy, donations, and charity that the marathon would have generated. I trust that the right decision was made by Mayor Bloomberg and NYRR to do what is best for the city. (Though I do believe the call should have been made far earlier, so athletes could have attempted to recoup travel money, and also because hotel rooms being used by runners who already made it into the city aren't doing much good for displaced Sandy victims). However, as I mourn for the city's residents whose futures are in question, I also mourn for the elite athletes who have been thrust into a questionable future of their own. In doing so, we have created a new set of victims, left devastated in Sandy's wake.


  1. Well said, great perspective that got lost among all the complaints.

  2. That's definitely a point most people are not considering. Great post, Becki.

  3. Fair point, very well made!

    I've read so many blogs in the past few days giving an opinion on the marathon situation in New York but none of them raised this point - a very pertinent and very true point it is too!

    I will quickly mention that I believe there should have been an Elites only race, there was mention this could happen around the Olympic Trials Course in Central Park. I'm sad to see that this did not come to fruition.

    Great post Becki, I've posted in on my blog's FB page :)

  4. Nice post. I went to a dinner at the NYAC last night where Joan Benoit Samuelson and Julie Culley spoke. Even coming from NJ where so much was destroyed, Julie wanted to run her first marathon and her frustration was apparent. Still, she and Joanie spoke eloquently and were grateful for the support thus far, but that doesn't totally makeup for a lost pay day that comes 2-3 times a year!

  5. Thanks for your comments everyone. I've found that my stance is pretty unpopular, and I certainly do not mean to trivialize the plights of those who lost everything. Those people are the worst off and are our first priority, as they should be. But they are not the only people who were hurt by Sandy. There are elite athletes who need to pay bills and put food on the table for themselves and their families too, and to forget about them is every bit as cruel as taking resources from those in need.

  6. I gotta say I respect that your heart is in the right place on this, as well as your willingness to take an unpopular stand - I simply feel this is misplaced, if anything. I want to be sure I am not misunderstanding your position on this, that you are not too close to where you place your sympathies, because my issue is that it does indeed seem to trivialize the thousands who have lost far, far more. I mean, I am sure that companies (and people working for them) that had counted on large marketing and sales returns from this race are feeling a financial loss, too. I do not think that anyone feels that elite runners are not among the many who have lost out due to the race cancellation, that it was not clear that this would be a missed potential payday for pro runners. It just seems to pale significantly in comparison to many, many more who were there to weather the storm and experience far greater loss. Especially because it is chiefly the poor NYC residents who have been hardest hit by this while the affluent (NYRR's primary clientele) are rather insulated. I could be wrong, but it just seems a bit tacky to me to be making the case that elites deserve "mourn(ing)" in light of these events. I agree that it sucks, yet most pro runners will make out far better in the coming months than the far greater number left far worse off by this storm. Maybe I am just misreading your opinion, though.


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