The Case for Incivility

Last week, Slowtwitch published an op-ed about the dominance of American women in ITU racing. It’s, by the way, something I also wrote about. The premise of Slowtwitch’s piece was that, as is said in the opening line: “access begets prosperity.” The reason, it says, that the American women are so good at draft-legal racing right now is because there were so many of them swimming and running as kids and then in college through the 1990s and 2000s. That’s true. I have no quibble with that argument.

Then there’s some hand-waving and therefore, says Slowtwitch, Ironman increasing the number of professional women’s spots in Kona, so that women have an equal number of starting spots to the men, isn’t going to increase access or participation overall, because what we really need is more programs to get people into swimming and running (and cycling presumably) and access at that beginner level has nothing to do with access at the highest level.

This is pretty faulty logic, because it draws a false parallel and skips a bunch of steps. Like the step where the requirements of Title IX are what begat the increased number of women participating in swimming and running in the first place. It’s not like thousands of 10-year-old girls suddenly created their own swim programs out of nothing. Those programs were created because there was an increased demand at the college level, which then meant an increased demand at the high school level, etc. It also skips the step where USA Triathlon was able to tap into the excess of collegiate female runners and swimmers and bring them over to draft-legal triathlon, because the opportunities in ITU draft-legal triathlon existed for them to be brought into.

It seems pretty strange to argue that the success of women in ITU draft-legal racing proves that we don’t need equality in non-drafting Ironman racing. Because I feel like it might actually be an argument for the opposite.

But whatever.

That isn’t actually my main problem with the debate over 50 Women to Kona. My problem is that then Slowtwitch argues that the real issue is that people in this debate just aren’t being nice enough. This is something I keep hearing. If we could just have a civil discussion, then I’m sure everything would be fine.

Let’s concede for a second that there are problems that exist in the world about which civility is not required. There are injustices so terrible that the only appropriate reaction is anger. That is simply a fact. The disagreement, then, is over whether or not you think this is one of those things.

Clearly some people think it is.

Do I think calling someone names is a good PR move? Or that yelling at them is going to convince them of your rightness? No, not particularly. But, do I understand why someone might be upset enough to do so? Yeah, sure. And I don’t have a right to tell them not to be upset.

When you say that what we just need is more civility, what you’re saying is that others don’t have a right to be angry with you, that what you’re saying and doing is not in it’s own way more uncivil. When you say that reasonable people can disagree, what you’re really assuming is that everyone agrees you’re one of those reasonable people.

(Arguing about the size of the pier is not a reasonable argument. Can everyone please stop talking about how there just isn’t enough room on the damn pier? There used to be, when more than 100 pros did the race. If there’s not now, it’s because those spots have been reallocated to people who would pay for them. That’s fine. Ironman is a business and it has every right to make that business decision. But own that decision then. Stop acting like this is all just in the hands of Hawaiian pier builders.)

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the call for civility tends to come from those defending the status quo, or that it tends to be directed at women and minorities. “Why can’t you just be more polite about us discriminating against you?!”

Part of the reason people seem so frustrated and so unable to articulate why precisely there should be an equal number of women as men is because this fight has already been fought so many times. Literally. This exact same argument. In so many sports. So it’s hard to figure out why we’re having it again, or why we’re supposed to be nice about it.

I do think there are reasonable ways to address the pro qualification question that aren’t 50-50. I’d be fine with 30-30, though I don’t think it’s really necessary and would cause a lot of over-racing. I think a 5% rule built in, with a whole lot of other questions about the details, could work. I think going back to a system similar to the age-group qualification system would be fine. (I think the only reason Ironman even moved to the KPR system in the first place is because they want to eventually move the age-groupers to a ranking qualification system as well, which nobody wants because we might as well just start having our paychecks sent directly to WTC if that happens.)

But I think if you’re going to set an arbitrary number, as dictated by a quasi-governing body, then it needs to be an equal number. If Ironman was a nonprofit governing body and not a private for-profit company, it would have to be. I simply can not think of another sport where the governing body would allow such a discrepancy at the highest level. Even on the other side of the same sport (draft-legal triathlon) it does not happen.

Everyone keeps nodding wisely and saying it’s all so complicated. If we allow the same number of women as men, then what’s next?! But it’s not really that complicated. It might be inconvenient. It might raise some questions you’d rather ignore. It might mean, somewhere down the road, that more women do Ironmans and fewer men get spots at Kona. God forbid. It might mean that someone is going to disagree with you. But that’s life. There’s nothing that says I have to think you’re smart or that you have to like me. We just have to get an equal shot. Anything else just wouldn’t be civil.

The Slowtwitch Question

Last night, I was reading the Slowtwitch interview with Beth Gerdes on my phone. I don’t read most of the Slowtwitch interviews, but I like Beth and she’s been killing it recently, so I was reading the interview and I got to this question:

ST: Did you two at one point consider not having the baby, or was that a thought that never crossed your mind?

Beth: Seriously? This is a question? Hah. No, we never considered it. I admit I was terrified at first, but Luke was very excited from the get go. We actually found out that I was pregnant two days before Ironman Hawaii 2013. Luke came 2nd that year so I’d say it was some good motivation for him.

My only reaction was ‘whoa, that’s surprisingly real for a triathlon interview,’ but she handled it in the only way that probably made sense for her. And I moved on, read the rest of the thing (which actually is much more interesting and she has a lot of good stuff to say about coming back after having the baby, the WTC points system, and her recent races), and didn’t think about it again.

This morning, I turned my phone back on to find out that my internet had thought about it a lot and was PISSED about the question, primarily because they felt it was a fundamentally inappropriate and sexist question.

I’m not sure they’re right. There are plenty of reasons to be upset about the question and how it was asked, particularly if you are Beth, but it is not a fundamentally sexist question. You don’t ask guys about training through pregnancy, not because you’re sexist, but because it doesn’t make sense to ask them. The decision to have a kid may be a personal decision between two people, but one of those people will disproportionately shoulder the burden of actually having the kid. It is a question that female athletes grapple with far more so than their male counterparts, because women are the ones who will have to be out of training and racing for a year, and lose everything that comes with that. Women are the ones who will have to make the hard comeback to full-time professional athlete. Yes, there are challenges for the male athletes with kids too, but they are far greater for women.

That is just a fact. And it is just a fact that I am sure there are female professional athletes who have ended up pregnant and simply were not prepared to have a kid at that point. There are countless reasons they might make the decision to have an abortion and that is their decision to make.

So. I read that question and I thought maybe we were letting women own their experiences a little bit. I thought maybe this was a step in the direction of allowing these decisions to come out of the shadows, and to let them simply be one of many decisions you, as a complex and nuanced person, make.

But I was wrong.

When everyone got upset about the question, this was the response:

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.29.08 PM

Ugh. So, nope, we’re not letting women own any of their experiences. Actually, still just making moral judgements about them.

People are upset about him asking the question, but I think they’re upset for the wrong reasons. They seem to think he shouldn’t have asked it, because it’s a topic that shouldn’t be touched, because it’s offensive for polite company. They seem to be saying: No one should ever suggest any woman has ever considered an abortion. What they really should be upset about, though, is that he asked it hoping to catch her in some kind of moral trap.

I’m a big believer that if we’re more honest, as people, then it would be better for everyone, that these are not things that we need to hide away in shame. Women deal with miscarriages all the time, yet never talk about them. Infertility is a tough problem for a lot of people, but they never mention it. The statistics suggest that you probably know someone who has had an abortion. But I doubt you know who they are. If we share our experiences, then we allow others to recognize themselves in us and to realize that they are not alone.

I’m sorry Beth’s interview is becoming all about this one question. You really should read the rest of it. But what if it was a totally different person who had been asked the same question and they had said, “Yeah, it’s a tough issue for a lot of pro women, and I really considered all of my options, but I’m glad I decided to have Baby X and it’s been great.” Or, hell, what if they had said, “Actually, I’ve had an abortion before.” (They wouldn’t, because they wouldn’t want the death threats or the outrage or sponsors leaving them.) But if this imaginary person had been asked the same question about her experiences and she had answered it with her own truth, I wonder if the outrage would have been the same.

I didn’t think much of the question at the time because somewhere in my head I had thought maybe that meant we lived in a world where it really was just one question among many. I was wrong, though. We don’t live there yet.

This is a crazy discussion on Slowtwitch right now — the craziest part of which, I think, is probably this quote from the ST publisher. The discussion is about a guy on the USAT board who was charged with misdemeanor assault for hitting his wife and did the probation, community service, and counseling that was his sentence, and now still serves on the USAT board. Hitting your wife is a terrible, awful thing to do. And I, personally, may want nothing to do with him and maybe (maybe) he should have nothing to do with anyone any more. But, I don’t know that throwing him off a board is going to solve the problem of having hit his wife? Theoretically, if someone made just one terrible mistake and learned from it, then allowing them to again become a meaningful part of society is probably better for society in the long run. Theoretically. I don’t know all the details in this case and I don’t know that it wasn’t something too terrible to come back from, but I tend to believe that we have a justice system that doles out sentences and then assumes that most people can be rehabilitated. And our need to pile on top of that, to call for more extreme punishments and expulsions and boycotts, is really more about distancing ourselves from any feelings of culpability than it is about actually finding the best way to truly fix problems. This sentiment above, though, is just weird to me, because it is a sentiment locked 50 years in the past. It has not learned or changed or become any better. It has not been rehabilitated.

i am kind of old school, i guess, because i stick cheating on wives right up there not too far below beating on wives. maybe even with it.

Changes to Ironman

At some point in the next few days I plan to write a post about what I thought of The Ironman Experience and if it’s worth what you pay. But, in the meantime, Ironman/World Triathlon Corporation has been busy making news.

Obviously, there was the whole crowdfunding to pay 7th place at Ironman Lake Placid to shame Ironman and push the debate about professional prize purses into the public eye. (You can read my interview with the organizers of that.) Personally, I think the campaign was interesting and certainly achieved its goal of attracting attention to the issue. And, it seemed like a really stupid PR move for an Ironman Corp. VP to take the check away at the finish line — no matter what he personally thought about the campaign and the organizers. But, there’s also been a lot of blowharding of course.

And that blowhard bullshit has definitely come from all sides. I mean what kind of advice is the Ironman/WTC CEO getting if he decides to go on Slowtwitch and poke the beast? This string in the forum, which he started, was the craziest and most interesting thing I’ve read in awhile. It included this weird story.

(I think my actual favorite part of it was that here is the Ironman CEO starting a debate — or whatever he intended to start — about professional prize purses and what is necessary to grow the sport, and instead someone starts posting about putting the aid stations at IM Canada closer together. I THINK YOU MISSED THE POINT.)

There were a few interesting points in the string, though. A number of people pointed out that the races are clearly being diluted, right? If there are fields where there aren’t even as many professionals as prize money, then it’s safe to say that for whatever reason the incentives aren’t there to get enough pros to the starts of races — though at the same time even if there was $500 in prize money for 7th would it be worth it if it cost you $1500 to do the race? Probably not. Ironman is definitely causing that over-saturation in part with their massive scaling up, but they’ve also created some of the incentives that stop people from going pro in the first place.

Side note: one of the most interesting points someone made was that under the ranking Kona qualification system for pros, Ironman has made it so that top age group athletes have no incentive to go pro — they won’t make it to Kona as a pro, but they can just keep going over and over and over as an age grouper — so Ironman’s kind of shooting themselves in the foot in the long run. And, anyway, we all know what my opinions are about people staying age group long after they shouldn’t anymore.

Whether Ironman listened to the growing concerns or not, the announcement today about the changes they’re making for next year was fascinating.

By eliminating prize money from a number of races, they’re hoping to combat that dilution of talent and reward early season racing more. They’re also paying ten deep at the championship races and rewarding automatic Kona spots. In some ways this took into account the arguments people have been making, but how it’ll actually work out is definitely still a big mystery.

Witsup has a pretty good layout of what all the changes entail and how it will affect people. It seems like clearly the biggest problem is just that by eliminating the number of races that newer entry-level pros can earn any money at makes it harder for them to move up. When we don’t have a developing ground for athletes we don’t make it easy for the sport to develop. But, I don’t know that the system before really worked for the mid-level pros. They were never able to actually break-even.

So, is all this a step in the right direction? Is Ironman finally dealing with some of its problems? Some of them? Any guesses on how this’ll work out eventually?

Can You Buy Event Participant Insurance for an Ironman?

In a word: No.

Who’s to blame for that? WTC or Active or Allianz — depending on who you ask.

Despite the fact that last fall Active unveiled a much ballyhooed race registration insurance program for all races on its platform, it does not appear to be possible to buy it for World Triathlon Corporation (commonly known as Ironman Co.) Ironman events. That is to say: I don’t know if you can buy it for Ironman-distance events put on by other race organizers and some people have reported success buying it for WTC’s 70.3 and 5150 races. But, when I tried to purchase the insurance for IM Coeur d’Alene, it was not possible.

In an interview with Slowtwitch, Active explained that the when athletes registered for races on Active’s system, they would have the option of purchasing a $7 insurance plan through Allianz insurance. This was something Allianz and Active were providing — NOT the race organizer. If the athlete then had to pull out before the race and never started, they could make a claim — and would have to go through a normal claim process like with any insurance — and get their registration money back. Obviously, for a $670 Ironman (once you pay the extra “convenience fees” from Active) that you have to register for nearly a year in advance, this is a deal. Active told Slowtwitch at the time that it would be available for all races and that, basically, they were counting on a lot of people paying the $7 for smaller, cheaper races and that it would balance out. They explicitly said, at the time, that it WAS available for Ironman races.

Now, not so much.

Checking around it seems that some people were able to purchase the insurance when they registered for Ironmans right after it was announced. But, then that stopped.

When I registered for IM CDA, the insurance wasn’t an option in the registration process. So, I called Allianz to purchase it directly. The Allianz rep told me it was only a product offered through Active, so I needed to call Active. He transferred me.

The woman at Active told me if it wasn’t an option in the registration process online, then that meant that the race organizer (in this case: WTC) wasn’t offering it. If the race organizer hadn’t decided to provide this option, then I couldn’t buy it directly through Active. (Which, on a side point, doesn’t even make any sense, because it’s an Active/Allianz insurance product that has nothing to do with the race organizer. The race organizer carries no risk for the product or cost, so why shouldn’t you be able to purchase it directly.)

The Active rep then said that no Ironman races offer the insurance option, because of a policy of USAT. I said you mean WTC, because USAT is USA Triathlon and why would a national governing body have a policy that doesn’t allow athletes to insure their most high-risk race registrations?

And, she said, nope, USAT has a policy.

Um, ok. Phone call ended.

Then, I emailed WTC/the race organizers and asked them. I got a perfectly nice email back that said:

We are not mandating that type of insurance for our events, but I am sure you are more than welcome to purchase it through Active if you want their coverage.

So, right. Obviously, I emailed them back saying that wasn’t exactly what Active had said. But, I haven’t gotten a response.

The more I think about it, the more it makes no sense. In theory, Allianz and Active are third-party providers. Their plan, all along, was to sell insurance, take on that risk, and make money. The race organizer gets the registrations either way; they don’t have to offer the refunds. It seems the options for what happened then are limited: Either Allianz and Active realized they weren’t going to make money on Ironman races, so they came up with a fake policy. But, why couldn’t they have just charged more for Ironmans and then the business model would make sense again and most people would pay $40 to insure that expensive a race? Or, USAT really banned them from selling it, which, I dunno, doesn’t seem logical. Or, WTC, which does a whole LOT of business with Active, basically came up with a policy and told them that was not going to be an option for their races. I don’t know why they’d do that, but I do know WTC signs a whole lot of contracts with vendors and cities and hotels and every part of the experience that they can sell you, so it seems like they must have some reason up their sleeve?

Have you been able to buy registration insurance for a race?

Alistair Brownlee Runs a 10K and Internet Commenters Offer Free Advice

I wrote a quick story about Olympic triathlon gold medalist Alistair Brownlee running the 10K on the track at Stanford this weekend. And, to get a sense of what people thought about his chances, I browsed internet discussion boards this week — which is never a fun thing to do. On the ever-popular Slowtwitch, people were actually complaining that the 10K leg of the triathlon in the Olympics was probably not accurate because the athletes went too fast. These internet people had no basis for assuming the OLYMPIC COURSE was short, other than that the athletes had run it quickly.

Here’s a thought: Maybe they ran it fast because it was the Olympics and they’re Olympic-fucking-caliber athletes.