Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Women's Running And Transgender Athletes

I'm going to drop a little trigger warning here and note that this post discusses transgender athletes, and some might find it offensive, even though it's not my intent to cause anyone harm. 


There's an image an author once described of a clean stretch of sand, no footprints, with the caption, "Do I dare?" Do I dare rock the boat, risk rejection, put myself out there, disrupt the sand or snow? Do I make tracks? I've been thinking about this post for a long time, years actually, but every time I go to write it, it's overwhelming. Where do I even begin? 

When I first started running, I had this naive idea that maybe eventually women could run as fast as men. I was a young teenager and occasionally beat the boys, but as I improved, I realized that a woman winning a race outright wasn't as simple as her training and working hard. 

When I set the record at the Pikes Peak Ascent (clean), my time placed me just slightly outside of the top 15 men that year. After being blocked by an arrogant guy on the trail for a short stretch early in the race, specifically because I am a woman -- actually a 16-year-old girl at the time -- I finished not too far behind Scott Elliott, who later went on to win the race something like eight times. We are both still listed in the top 20 all-time bests. If you look at the all-time records, the top woman's time is 2:24:58, while the man listed as 20th on the list ran 2:09:28. This is not unlike the comparison between men and women using flat marathon times. There is a gap between what the best men and the best women can run. On a side note, the woman who is listed as the second-fastest at Pikes was given a little slap on the wrist for using a fertility drug a few years earlier because she was trying to get pregnant at the time, and drug testing was implemented for the mountain race a year after the women's record of 2:24:58 was set. 

Over the years, it became more apparent to me that men have an advantage. There will always be "Yeah but," exceptions, a woman winning a race outright, especially in longer distances, for example, but generally speaking a man will almost always run faster than a woman, even if their training is basically the same. It bothers me that this is so, but it just is. Some characteristics that people don't often address when discussing the difference between men and women are lung, leg, and heart size. In addition to having more muscle mass and longer legs, in general, men's oxygen consumption is higher due to both bigger hearts and bigger lungs. And, of course, there is testosterone to consider. According to Healthline, by adulthood, a normal, healthy man will have a testosterone level of at least 300 nanograms per deciliter as compared to an adult woman whose normal range will be between 8-60 nanograms per deciliter. This article does a good job of going into the biological advantages men have over women and how testosterone plays a role. I'm sure readers can figure out where I'm going here, and I should note that in this post, I'm only addressing running, not other sports in which there are even more concerning issues when athletes with great physiological differences participate. 

Author Kathleen Megan mentioned the division transgender sports has caused among women's advocates. I'll add that the division is quite apparent in the general public, too. In one article, Kathleen quotes Donna Lopiano, sports consultant associated with the Women's Sports Foundation:

I don’t know of a woman athlete who doesn’t want trans girls to be treated fairly,” said Donna Lopiano, who led the Women’s Sports Foundation for 15 years and now runs a Shelton-based consulting firm that works with clients on Title IX and other sports management issues. “But the cost of treating her fairly should not come at the cost of discriminating against a biologically-female-at birth woman.

This is basically my stance. People are so concerned about not offending anyone in the LGBTQ community that many shut down and don't say anything. I did for years. Others who think that there should be a different way to approach trans athletes in competition are often discounted or attacked. Anyone who's not fully supporting trans women competing against the gender they identify with is called transphobic or worse. After recently saying that I donate to the ACLU because they support racial equality, I'm rethinking where I will put my money after one of their lawyers lied, posted questionable tweets, and also suggested on Twitter that trans women are biological women. In the linked article, Glenn Greenwald notes:

ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio decided to spew this extremely grave accusation about J.K. Rowling and Abigail Shrier, both of whom oppose the inclusion of trans girls in female sports: 

As I’ve written before, I’m not in agreement with those who advocate this absolute ban. I’m open to a scientific consensus that develops hormonal and other medicinal protocols for how trans girls and women can fairly compete with CIS women in sporting competitions. But that does not entitle you — especially as an ACLU lawyer — to just go around casually branding people as “closely aligned to white supremacists” who have never remotely demonstrated any such affinity, just because you feel like it, because you crave the power to destroy your adversaries, or are too slothful to engage their actual views.

Saying shitty lies about women aside, Strangio's take on biology is not accurate either. Kevin Beck will always get to the point more creatively than I, but I’ll press on here. 

There is a biological component when it comes to gender identity, but that isn't the same as addressing an individual's biological sex. I'm not suggesting that one should call those who identify as women anything other than what they prefer, but when it comes to competition, I would like to see fairness. I see quite a few people quoting an open-access neuroscience article from 2019 that states, "gender is multi-dimensional" without fully understanding what this means. It's complicated, no doubt, but, when it comes to biology and neurology, there is a distinction between sex and gender. In very general scientific terms, sex is based solely on biological factors including chromosomes (DNA) and gonads (testes or ovaries). Gender is far more complex and is based on how an individual identifies, how genes are expressed (epigenetics), and how the brain is influenced in the long- and short-term by experience and epigenetics. In short, one (sex) is determined by biology while the other (gender) is influenced to a degree by biology. There's a big distinction there, and gender identification is not the same as an individual being born with a specific kind of genetically determined advantage like a runner with exceptionally long Achilles tendons

Examining testosterone or the biological influence on gender reinforces the fact that transgender athletes who identify as female have an advantage, one that lasts over a year after hormone therapy has been implemented. Hormone therapy does not address other characteristics like lung size, leg length, and oxygen consumption. Recently, three young girls filed a lawsuit in Connecticut in an effort to block transgender athletes from competing in girls sports. One can imagine how difficult it must be for these youngsters to come forward with their concerns, simply asking for a fair chance in their sport.
From the Associated Press article, attorney Christina Holcomb states:
 “Forcing girls to be spectators in their own sports is completely at odds with Title IX, a federal law designed to create equal opportunities for women in education and athletics,” attorney Christiana Holcomb said. "Connecticut’s policy violates that law and reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women.”

When it comes to transgender athletes, what I would love to see is a solution, one that's fair to both biological females and those who identify as female. I think there's a way to do this, but I don't know if it will ever happen, partly because there's not a whole lot of excess money in running and also because most people take a win-at-all-costs approach to life, meaning few people want to have a civil conversation if you disagree with them. I find it shocking that many who claim to want inclusivity are so militant when it comes to others holding a different opinion. 

Some ideas that have been presented include:

  • Let it be a fucking free-for-all with everyone competing against each other with no divisions at all between the sexes. This wouldn't be fair, especially to biological women, and I don’t think it's really what most people want, though, oddly enough, this seems to be a goal of some.  
  • I think I saw this on the Ultrarunner Podcast Twitter feed at one point, though I could be mistaken, but the idea would be to compete as your sex; identify as your gender. As much as I agree here, this might not seem fair to trans women or trans men, for that matter. Unfortunately, trans men are so often left out of the conversation when it comes to competition in sports.
  • Measure testosterone levels, and make sure that trans women are competing with levels of hormones that are considered normal for female athletes. I also agree with this, but it seems like a tricky task in terms of privacy and implementation of testing. Also, this doesn't address physical characteristics that give transgender women an edge (see above).
  • Compete as how you identify but rank and award money in three or even four separate categories. For example, transgender women would compete against other women but would be scored separately and awarded equal pay for placement. This is actually my suggestion, but, again, it's unlikely when it would take money and effort to make these kinds of changes in sports.  

I honestly think that most people in the running community would like to see a solution that is fair to everyone. The problem is that bringing up transgender athletes is kind of like bringing up religion or politics. Few people are willing to see anyone else's point of view, and if you express even the slightest dissatisfaction with having transgender athletes compete against girls and women, be ready for some harsh criticism. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Words Matter

I'm in the process of moving things over here: https://chaoswithggirl.substack.com/p/words-matter

Earlier today, I saw that Oiselle posted the following on Twitter:

When we separate the athlete from the person, we are essentially saying, “You need to sacrifice your mental well-being to achieve success in the sports world.” This is not okay.

Since I had basically just written the opposite regarding separating the person from the athlete, I read the post several times before thinking, "What the fuck?" When I clicked on the link to the article Oiselle had referenced, I quickly realized that there was an error in wording. The bigger message is something I absolutely agree with and endorse, that of being open and willing to talk about mental health, and Karelle Edwards did a lovely job of sharing her story and encouraging others to do so as well. After all, according to a well-researched article published in 2019, "elite athletes experience broadly comparable rates of mental ill-health relative to the general population in relation to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and sleep disorders." There's no reason anyone in sports should be ashamed to come forward when close to 35% of elite athletes will suffer some form of mental health issue. It's critical that people in general, but athletes in particular, move away from any negative stigma associated with mental illness. 

The wording in the Oiselle post and article is an issue, though, and this is unfortunate because, as I said, the larger message is a very good one. I don't fault the author, really. Her overall concepts are spot-on; I fault those who published the article and then spread a potentially harmful message on social media. The Twitter post is misleading. The author's sentiments are actually fairly clear despite the error of suggesting "you can't separate the athlete from the person." Not only can you separate the athlete from the person, you absolutely should. What the author seems to mean is that one should take a holistic approach when dealing with athletes. Being allowed to show emotion, be emotional, show vulnerability, and support others in need is a healthy approach both on and off the athletic field. Integrating being human with the experience of being an athlete is not the same as being enmeshed with your emotions or tangled in your identity as an athlete, though. It's very, very important to be able to make the distinction, and Oiselle did not. 

To a degree, forming a positive "athletic identity" can be beneficial, but when it goes too far and an individual can't separate himself from that role, the label becomes problematic. A sport is an activity a person does, not who she is. In 1918, the journal of Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health published a study that suggested that adapting to retirement is more difficult for elite athletes than for the general public. When elite athletes are no longer competing at a high level, they may struggle to find a sense of purpose in their lives, especially if they haven't allowed for growth in other areas or if they are too wrapped up in their identity of being an athlete. When it comes to athletes, Malcom Lemmons cautions, "What they did in sports should never become who they are. And this goes for every athlete, currently playing or retired. Your ability as an athlete and the success you used to have should never overshadow your other abilities as a person." 

When I speak of the emotional, physical, mental, and even spiritual bodies of a person, I'm not moving into woo territory. This is just a more well-rounded look at the individual as a whole. My first college coach used to ask, "Are you physically tired, or do you feel like you don't want to do the workout?" Physically tired meant my legs were sore, I didn't sleep well, or I was drained and lacking energy. Emotionally tired could present as physical symptoms, but, in that case, we took a "warm up and see" tactic. If, after a warm-up jog, I was still fatigued, it was time for an easy day or a day of rest. If my body felt better, I could jump in the workout. The best thing about my coach was that he always looked at us as individuals first, athletes second. If you nurture the person, the positive results should spill out in all areas of life, including athletics. 

I don't want to take away from Edwards' necessary and heartfelt message of getting help and being free to open up about mental health issues; I just hope that everyone can be more aware of how much words matter. The idea that a person be allowed to be who she is in everything she does is a good one. The problem is Oiselle wording the social media post in a way that suggests merging identities, which can be very unhealthy and doesn’t appear to be what the author means anyway. A little caution on social media can go a hell of a long way. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Journalistic Integrity Part II

I'm not sure when newsletters went from publications containing actual written content to very short blurbs with a bunch of links to other people's work. There are certain bloggers I follow who post a lot of links in their content, and I generally like their posts. Bloggers usually don't try to pass their content off as articles or newsletters, though. Also, many in the blogosphere are often witty, thoughtful, and more interesting than many paid writers these days, myself excluded, though sometimes even I can squeeze out an ounce of wit. I just find it odd to see anyone marketing a newsletter as such when it's really nothing more than a short directory. Someone who does an excellent job of putting out an actual newsletter is Mario Fraioli with his The Morning Shakeout. I look forward to reading it each week because it's informative, tactful, and insightful. It should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads my musings that another writer I follow is Kevin Beck, specifically his blog Beck of The Pack. In addition to the brilliant writing, the content he puts out is also informative, honest, and hard-hitting. Oh, and it's often humorous, too. 

The truth is, I don't keep up with running news very much unless someone points me in a specific direction. I follow a few runners on social media and admire and am a huge fan of various individuals and groups in the running community, but I'm rarely up on the latest scoop until after the fact. Since I subscribed to Mario's newsletter, however, I'm a little bit more in the know than I was. 

While I'm all over true-crime podcasts, I'll admit that I find it difficult to listen to running podcasts for a variety of reasons, even though there are some good ones and a few great ones in an ocean of choices. I recently stumbled upon Ali on the Run and was pleasantly surprised that the episode I listened to kept my attention and made me think that I would like to hear more. Ali has a great speaking voice, and she's a fan of peanut M&Ms; what's not to love? Despite her up-with-people and everything's rosy outer appearance, Ali tackles challenging, even heated topics and difficult subject matter, including her own struggles with Crohn’s disease, in a surprisingly upbeat, thoughtful manner. It's a nice contrast to my own often somber tone, though I'd like to think my cheese review blog is a lot less serious. 

I bring up content by individuals I admire because sometimes I read an article related to running and think, "Holy shit! Is anyone else taking this the same way I am?"  I mentioned an article by Martin Fritz Huber that didn't sit well with me before, so I wasn't all that surprised to see that others took his more recent write-up (and not his first) on Tracksmith as unnecessarily unkind, sort of like giving a bad Yelp review for takeout during a pandemic when the restaurant you ordered from served an excellent meal but you imagine the whole experience would have been better if there had been a sprig of parsley on top. If you look at his previous articles that mention Tracksmith, it starts to look more like a writer with a personal grudge than an unbiased journalist. Some might find the Outside and Tracksmith partnership strange bedfellows after reading Huber's not so subtle jabs, a little nipping at the hand that provides nourishment.

From calling trail runners "lazy parasites" to avoiding payment due to writers to complaints by customers of unauthorized renewals and charges to the really big oopsie on Twitter to the other big oopsie regarding Laz Lake, Outside Magazine isn't coming off as above board and politically correct as they pretend to be. None of this affects me directly, but I cringe knowing I gave anyone associated with the magazine my time for an interview, especially someone who referenced an individual as somewhat of an expert in the area of eating disorders when she's not. As a result, Outside gave out bits and pieces of misinformation about eating disorders and implied having one makes athletes less mentally tough but didn't go on to explain the incredible success and determination of one of the other women referenced in the article who suffered from an eating disorder. Please note that I'm not suggesting any ridiculous ideas that suffering from a serious illness gives you an edge. I'm just pointing out that the article didn't do a very good job of explaining that an individual can be both mentally tough and struggle with an eating disorder. 

Opinion is continually posted as fact these days, though. My participation was before I knew how much the magazine had fallen from the time Jon Krakauer was a major contributor. Had I known how the final piece would read, I would have politely declined any reference to my name. Maybe I shouldn't be so judgmental since quite a few people find it's not a very fun place to work. This is just one of several publications making wrong steps in journalism, though. And sure, Outside isn't exactly a running magazine, but the publication sure covers a lot of running-related material. 

What shocked me was learning about Kamilah Journet’s experience both before and after her interview by Outside for the more recent Tracksmith article. Ali and Kamilah did a great job of being fair and keeping everything in perspective. I'll take a chapter from their book and hold my tongue since I wasn't involved, however, like Ali, I encourage everyone to read Kamilah's thoughts on Instagram. After doing a little research, I come back to my more recent post about a portion of the running community actually being rather exclusive, despite claims of being the opposite. If you're not among the few popular voices, you can easily get shut down, and even if you're easily liked and admired, it doesn't prevent criticism or subtle digs. I had to ask a few people to read another Outside article to make sure I wasn't being overly sensitive about it, but you can judge for yourself whether or not Huber, whose style might just be naturally condescending, is really doing Mary Cain any favors. Mary, who has a degree in business administration and a paid position as a community manager at Tracksmith, landed a role similar to Carrie Tollefson at Rebok at the end of her running career, only nobody said shit about that. At the moment, Mary is very sensibly and carefully returning to the sport she loves post-surgery  

It's also an interesting take by Huber to ponder how things would have gone if Mary had still been abused at NOP but had run well, implying that if you're running well, the abuse still isn't OK but young women will put up with it to get results. The problem with this kind of thinking is that many times, maybe even more often than not, a young athlete puts trust in a coach. Mary is 24 now, still young, and quite a few athletes who haven't trained under very many coaches before don't immediately recognize abuse for what it is. There are noted instances of partners in physically abusive relationships normalizing the violence as a coping strategy, so you can imagine how anyone might do the same in an emotionally abusive situation. It's not unlike someone stepping into an unhealthy relationship for the first time. There's a sense that something's not right, but it's overwhelming and confusing in the moment to sort through all that's happening. In Mary's case, she opened up about feeling alone and mentioned that she didn't receive support when she finally gathered enough courage and strength to talk about what was happening. She had already addressed why she and others in a position like hers stay or even want to go back to abusive situations. As Cain told The New York Times, "because when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything." 

The call is coming from inside the house!   

Outside isn't the only publication getting some pushback. Not that long ago, Fast Women took aim at a rather popular piece by the New York Times, for good reason; the opinion piece wasn't well researched. The New York Times had also just praised Salazar and NOP a few years earlier in an article discussing Mary, the teen prodigy. This article now has a disclaimer at the beginning. In general, this recent article in Runner's World among the best of the exceptions, the media have treated Mary awfully, relentlessly discussing her in every which way, even when she was a teenager. More often than not, outlets that address Mary's role in the running community or her past abuse at Nike -- I'm not saying alleged abuse because too many people have corroborated her claims -- insist on bringing up a possible comeback. Ups and downs happen in running. It's to be expected. The pressure on her to run a certain way seems oppressive, and I'm only watching from the sidelines. I remember when I was in college, all the times I was injured or sick and the articles in local papers that came out about my future. It was exhausting because I worried that I might not be able to get back to my top form. What many seem to be missing is Mary's new position of being an advocate and mentor. People can't seem to separate her from her running. 

Kara Goucher recently wrote a heartfelt post on Instagram about her worsening knee injury. It's not uncommon for top athletes to face injuries. Look at the world of football, boxing, gymnastics, and basketball. Aging and retired athletes often face tremendous and chronic pain. Athletics is demanding on the body, especially at the elite level. Training, competing, and always pushing beyond what's normal take a toll on the body. Sport is also emotionally and mentally challenging. Lorraine Moller cautioned against hanging on to your past identity when it's no longer working or useful, and you're being pulled or called to do something else. I wish I were better at letting go in my own life. It's also important for those observing to do the same. Continually focusing on Mary's next race or how fit she is or what times she's running doesn't fully allow her to be the spokesperson she has become. 

Whether or not she runs or competes is irrelevant. She has a message, an important one, and she should be heard no matter how fast she is or was or will be on the track. What some of us would rather see is that she be allowed to progress in her new role and eventually get to a point where she can do what she loves without pain, without pressure, and maybe even enjoy running again the way she used to before things got so difficult for her. With the right kind of support, and it sounds like that's what she's receiving at Tracksmith, maybe she can get there, and maybe we can allow her to. 


Monday, December 28, 2020

Pain and Pretzels

Every time I go to a certain store, I sort of pretend I'm not going to buy a large soft pretzel. I'm not sure why I do this, maybe in part because bread has become such a taboo item these days, and I contemplate whether or not I "should" eat the pretzel, thinking maybe I ought to choose something healthier. I try to look away as I walk by the bakery, and eventually take a quick glance. If there are any twisted knots left, I get a little thrill and run over to put one in a bag. If the shelf is empty, I'm always disappointed and reluctantly toss some salad or a can of soup into my basket. 

These days, it's not exactly guilt that makes me kind of weird about the purchase. I used to eat two bagels topped with peanut butter or cheese at a time when I was in college and never really thought twice about it. Back then, bread was still considered part of a healthy diet. I was also running a lot and probably needed whatever carbs I consumed. As it is, I really enjoy toasting the pretzel and eating it with cream cheese, butter, or fried eggs. It makes me content or at least not feel physically bad. Overall, it's a pleasant experience, however, there's this little part of my brain that questions it. I hate that the world ever heard of Keto, Paleo, Atkins, or whatever other fad diet is au courant because now we're all supposed to look up to Instagrammers who eat "clean," whatever the fuck that means, when it's much more enjoyable to take pleasure in eating. The mess of dieters on social media reminds me of terrible times in my life when I was way too rigid and uptight to eat what I craved and couldn't see that eating something outside of my comfort zone when I was hungry was better than avoiding all food if I couldn't get something that fit with my specific set of set rules. In some ways, I'm still too rigid, a bit of the old OCD going on, but I'm glad I'm suffering a bit less and not so uptight that I can't enjoy some fucking bread now and then.

Baked goods aside, I've been thinking about this blog post for years. An outline has been sitting untouched for far too long, but an incident that occurred recently prompted me to drag out the draft folder and take another look. This is really just a rant, not an exercise in writing, and it's probably not going to be very entertaining. In other words, read at your own risk. 

It goes without saying that this year has been an exceptionally hard year on almost everyone. Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances have lost people close to them, the majority but not all from COVID. As a result, this doesn't feel like the right time to drop this kind of post into cyberspace, but there's never really a perfect time. 

A little over a week ago, I had a colonoscopy that resulted in two polyps being removed. Everything should be fine, but I have felt exceptionally tired and run-down ever since. That same day, I got some not so good news about my foot. An MRI showed a ligament tear, tendon thickening, a trapped nerve, some swelling in various places, and a little cartilage wearing in the joint. Oddly, none of this is supposed to prevent me from running..well, jogging, but today, I was just tired, tired of my routine, physically tired, emotionally drained, and sick of dealing with the pain and my wonky gait. I started out on a little jog in the falling snow and kept stopping. My shoe needed retying. Everything hurt. I needed to stretch a little more. My other shoe needed adjusting. I didn't even get a few houses up the street before I just said, "fuck it," and walked home. 

In the last couple of months, I have given more serious thought to giving up running altogether. It's the only exercise I really like other than horseback riding, which is too expensive, and I haven't gotten anywhere near a horse in what feels like a lifetime. I'm not quite giving up yet, mostly because I feel like if I can get to a point where I can walk without pain or at least with less pain, I'll naturally want to run. At this point, both hurt. Suzy Hamilton and I talked once about what we would do if we couldn't run. We both agreed that we would become walkers or maybe hikers instead. I don't know where she stands on that now, but walking isn't much of an option for me at the moment. Even biking accentuates my imbalances. It all just feels wrong. 
Pain is considered a symptom of an underlying condition. In more technical terms, it has been described as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage." Physical pain and emotional pain can sometimes become intertwined. The pain of existing for some can feel like a physical ache or discomfort, and chronic physical pain can increase emotional pain. 

When I first got the results of the MRI, I wasn't exactly surprised. I knew something was wrong, but I still worried maybe the test wouldn't show anything. Going into my hysterectomy, that same kind of fear arose. What if it's all in my head? What if there's nothing wrong, and it turns out I'm just a whiner? But, to date, that has never been the case. 

What concerns me regarding this whole situation is that a few years ago, I saw a couple of alternative "healers" who suggested that I was creating pain, that there was nothing physically wrong with my foot. I put off getting an MRI because I assumed they were basing this knowledge about my body part on some kind of evidence, but what they were really getting at was a fancy way of saying, "It's in your head." I suppose looking at my foot, one would never really know all that was going on under the surface, but everything wrong with my foot isn't apparent at a glance. That's why there are other ways to access injuries. That siad, there are at least some ways of prodding and poking certain areas that should give a professional some kind of an idea about the type of injury a person has or at least make it apparent that the discomfort is specific to a particular spot and not in a patient's head.
I always thought that this post would be extra long and informative, full of facts about the difference between psychosomatic issues and injuries. I know that the mind is powerful and believe it can contribute to either making pain worse or alleviating it, but I can't even tell you how absolutely sick and tired I am of people who discount other people's pain. I'm very fortunate that I have recently worked with a few people, my podiatrist included, who have never questioned my pain. Insted, they have worked with me to try to find ways to help cope with it and alleviate it as much as possible. 

I guess my whole point in writing this is to encourage people to trust their intuition when it comes to pain. Most people, especially runners, have a good idea of what's going on with their bodies. Don't let anyone make assumptions about something you know to be real. I always come back to the idea that even if pain were in someone's head, shouldn't that also be addressed? Wouldn't that also be a symptom of something deeper? I mean, fuck. The way some so easily discount others really saddens me. 

If I opt for surgery, it will be my 13th. I'm not ready to face that yet.

I'm not bothering to proofread this. I'm too tired, and I've spent most of the day in bed.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Journalistic Integrity

Being loud doesn't necessarily mean bringing the right kind of attention to a cause, and, as others have noted, posting a black box or a pink ribbon on social media accounts one day of the year, wearing a shirt, or shouting a slogan isn't the same as learning about a specific cause, donating to it, or supporting the people dedicated to making real changes. For many groups advocating for change, some issues will slide into the political arena. For example, some of you might be familiar with the Breathe Act, an important and necessary bill created by some of the founders of Black Lives Matter. This bill addresses police brutality in the United States. It is supported by many racial justice groups and politicians, and this is just one way BLM is associated with politics.

If you go to the BLM website, the group describes itself as a political and social movement. In October 2020, Black Lives Matter launched a PAC (political action committee.) This was done specifically so that the group can effect change in a concrete way through legislation and by educating voters. I believe this to be a good move on their part. Another organization, and one I donate to, the ACLU, is also dedicated to fighting for racial justice and against systemic racism. According to their website: 

The ACLU is committed to combating racism in all its forms. Its advocacy includes litigation, community organizing and training, legislative initiatives, and public education to address the broad spectrum of issues that disproportionately and negatively impact people of color.

Targets of oppression are usually women, migrants, people of color, indigenous people, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and people who are poor, in no particular order. If you're a runner and exercise at all in public, chances are you've been yelled at, but that's not the same as facing oppression and systemic racism.

This is all just to say that political groups are usually necessary in order to accomplish lasting change in this country. It's fine to pay attention to the social aspect of an organization, but observable change has a better chance backed by legislation. It's also important that those who support a group or movement have a good understanding of all that the organization represents. As is often the case when it comes to large, diverse organizations, not everyone has a comprehensive understanding of all that the BLM movement entails. While it's clear that BLM has a political agenda, as it should, supporting citizens or people of color and minorities is not political, and it's great to see more and more people making an effort to learn just how to do this, whether it's supporting businesses (some ideas here and here), donating to specific organizations, or simply listening to others talk about issues, there are quite a few active ways to help.

In 2019, Outside Magazine Online published a gushing piece on Gary Cantrell, going into great detail about the kind and dedicated man and his ability to put on some of the most difficult running races around. If you googled his name then, you would find all kinds of information on his impressive charity contributions, his running, and, of course, his role as a race director. What a difference a year makes. In 2020, Outside Magazine online published an article about Cantrell that included a lie by omission in the title itself, hinting that their beloved race director might be a racist. As is often the case with biased reporting, no real evidence was offered. In fact, the author presents more evidence to the contrary, despite the misleading title. Google Gary's name now, and you will find a mess of contradictory pieces, those in support of him and those that look more like hit pieces, very little in between, though I found one article that did a better job than most of presenting both sides of a recent event that landed the race director in the hot seat.

After reading four articles, a blog post, far too many social media posts, and listening to two podcasts on the topic, there are still inconsistencies about minor details relating to the events that caused Outside to state that Lazarus Lake "took a stand against BLM," which isn't accurate. From what I can gather, a runner, Ben, who entered one of Gary's virtual races also joined the race's Facebook group, posted an image of himself in a BLM shirt that either violated the group's terms --which everyone is prompted to agree to before joining -- or caused a big stink while Ben was sleeping and was either immediately deleted or deleted after arguing in the group started and complaints began to roll in.

Either way, Laz and the moderators of the Facebook group have the right to delete whatever post they want for whatever reason at any given time. It's his group. Either you make exceptions for everyone, or you stick to the rules. I or others may not agree with what the mods choose to do, but it's not my group.

A few years ago, I was part of a team of moderators for an eating disorder recovery group, and our rules were very strict. As a result, we deleted a lot of posts and images that might not cause issues on Instagram or in other forums. People sometimes wanted to argue that certain images sent a positive message, but in that particular group, we didn't allow images of bodies, period. People who joined were given the rules and could leave if they didn't like the atmosphere. It's a judgment call, done in order to keep a group running smoothly and to hopefully prevent anyone from being hurt, and it's not like the Internet is lacking when it comes to places to post content.

Most of the time it's an easy choice for moderators as to what gets deleted, but sometimes it can be more complicated. Reading through the comments in that group, several other forums, and on Reddit, it seems most people at least understand the position Laz and his moderators were in and can see why he or his moderators made the decision to delete the post in an effort to keep the forum free of conflict. They consistently delete posts related to politics, ads, and spam. It's a group about running, and that's what they want the focus to be on.

As far as I know, the others who have had posts deleted in that group never brought their complaints to running magazines. Ben stated in a recent podcast, "I put up the post at about 9:30 at night. I wake up the next morning, and the post is gone. It's been deleted, and so I'm like. This is weird...like, why would it be deleted?"  He goes on to explain that he got a message from Laz and thought it was interesting but not surprising because he apparently knew that many people see BLM and associate it with politics. But then he wondered who was framing it that way and naturally assumed it was white people. He goes on to explain that whenever white people talk about politics (I assume he means in this kind of setting but could mean generally speaking because he didn't specify), it's "code for this makes me and other white people uncomfortable." At some point, after the photo was deleted, Ben contacted journals to cover the story. Runner's world and Outside both picked it up, and Get Out There took a more balanced approach.

After the photo incident, Ben and several teammates tried to join one of Laz's virtual races under the name BLM and were told they couldn't. He and others who chose what some see as controversial names or names that were bound to bring up politics were welcome to enter under different names. Again, this was a rule that applied to everyone, not specifically to Ben. There are other races that announce a political-free zone, too. I ran one in Longmont, Colorado a few years ago, in fact. I come back to the distinction of BLM being associated with a political movement versus supporting people of color because Laz never banned anyone from joining his race. He simply told people that he had certain rules everyone had to follow in order to participate.

What's clear isn't so much the individual stories, neither has been completely consistent; it's that journalistic integrity has gone to the shitter, and this has nothing really to do with those involved in the incident. The title of the Outside article, Why Did a Virtual Ultra Ban "Black Lives Matter"? is misleading, because Laz and the moderators banned all political posts including Black Lives Matter from both their Facebook group and later from a virtual race, not specifically BLM. There is a distinction. And the publication did this at a time when most people read only the headlines. Laz's group also banned posts that weren't on topic, spam, ads, and anything else they felt was a detriment to the group. BLM wasn't specifically targeted, and nobody banned people from supporting people of color, as evidenced by the image of Amelia Boone sporting a temporary tattoo that reads "say their names" and a team that initially wanted to enter Laz's race using the title BLM but, instead, entered under the name "Breanna [sic], George & Ahmaud” after finding out that the former name wouldn't be permitted. It seems as though Laz and at least some runners found a compromise. Laz seems more concerned with continuing his efforts to raise money for charity than getting involved in online spats, and he has raised an impressive amount for food banks and animal rescues.   

From the Outside article regarding Laz:

He maintained that the purpose of controlling the language of team names and race forums didn’t reflect a personal ideology, but an honest attempt to keep things from devolving into, as he put it, “pointless” arguments. 

And also:

...he and his nine teammates changed their minds after Cantrell informed them that they could not use “Black Lives Matter” as their team name. In an email to the group, Cantrell stated that he was unwilling to allow a team to call itself Black Lives Matter, just as he would be unwilling to let a team use the “MAGA” acronym. “If I thought one heart would be changed, it would be different,” Cantrell wrote, “But all that would happen is the race would fill up with the same crap that permeates everything.”

Keep in mind that by this time, the articles in Outside and Runner's World were out, and Laz and his family had started to receive hate mail and threats. Both Laz and Ben were invited to be guests on podcasts, Laz on Ultrarunning Magazine and Ben on Citius Mag. 

Ben wasn't about to let anything drop, so when he was interviewed on the podcast, he laid out his assumptions about Laz for all to hear, and people took what he said and ran with it, especially the host, Emma Zimmerman. Boy, if you're going to state outright that Lazarus Lake "banned Black Lives Matter from his events" and "shared his racist speech openly on a prominent podcast," you better fucking back it up with some proof. That's a serious accusation. Ben went on to say, "Neither Laz nor Amy say the words "black lives matter", but that's what Laz is referring to when he says " ...the ugliness of people and their politics." only it's not because if you take that statement in context, Laz is talking about the arguing in general, not specific politics, and it was related to him deleting multiple posts in the group. He reiterated this sentiment in his post (below). I listened to both podcasts, and unless you take Laz's generalizations personally while Carly Simon is playing in the background, it's not a racist speech, not even close. 

Speaking of backing up statements with evidence, as far as I can tell, Ben does no such thing when he claims Laz (and his moderators) left up posts containing images of people wearing blue lives matter shirts. Unless I missed it, I never saw a screenshot or image in the group, and most of Ben's "evidence" is a list of links to his own posts on social media.

In response to all that was going on, Laz posted the following:

moderating a facebook group is the worst job in america.
if you are willing to take the grief and maintain eternal vigilance you can have a good group that stays on topic.
you can see the positive and enjoyable potential of social media.
but you will spend an unconscionable amount of time removing ads, charities, trolls, dross, and political posts.

all we are having is a race.
the facebook group is about the race.
we did not just ask one team to change their name.
nor did we ask anyone to withdraw.
political or offensive team names are off the board.
apparently no one is upset that we asked the "whores" to change their name.

here was what surprised me about moderating.
we really didnt have a problem with abusive behavior.
a couple of times someone started to get that social media attitude,
but removing it and telling them to stop was enough.
out of the countless thousands of posts and comments
having someone get out of line twice could be considered nonexistent as a problem.

the popular ultrarunning troll took a little more effort.
but over time, if you remove every single reference as soon as it appears, they tire of it.
everyone learns to ignore the little symbols when they show up,
and it is eventually not worth the effort to insert them,
when it gets nothing in return.

ads, especially race ads, just require diligence.
sometimes it is well meaning members of the group
sometimes it is an RD whose marketing strategy is to piggyback on everyone else's social media.
you keep taking them down,
and no one ever objects.

you know, it sucks pulling down charity ads when you support the charity.
but if you have a good group going, the charity requests will suffocate it. removing them is just something that has to be done.

dross is hard. people dont put in dross on purpose.
sometimes people have faulty filters.
you see that in real life conversations.
the person that interjects something totally off topic out of the blue.

but politics.
first, let me assure you there are not actually any political issues.
the immediate response to pulling down a political post is;
"this is not political, it is a moral issue"
(unfortunately i am not moderating a group that is intended to teach moral values)
the second response is to accuse you of harboring the opposite political view.
success is when you are accused of favoring both sides.
kind of a pyrrhic victory at best.

politics are reliable.
every week there is a new political cause.
and you will have to take down a number of posts.
people who are really consumed by their cause,
and believe it must be the only thing discussed
will bend heaven and earth to find some way to interject it.
and it becomes a real nuisance to try to keep the issue of the week out.
but it has to be done,
because it only takes minutes for those posts to have a hundred responses.
a hundred responses exactly like the ones you can find in a million different places.
everyone is shouting out their viewpoint
and no one is listening.
there is simply no purpose in it.
not one heart or mind will be changed by what is posted in an ultra-race group.
(none are changed anywhere else either)
the group will just dwindle until it is only the people screaming at each other.
political content is removed.

now for the apology part.
after i took down a BLM post on the group they advertised it
(kind of like they are doing right now)
and it unleashed a torrent of ugly, nasty hate mail.
the hate mail was a wasted effort.
i coached other people's kids for 30 years
my skin is a meter thick.
but i did tell the BLM people it did not give me any warm and fuzzy feeling for BLM.
and i was told it did not come from them.

that is fair enough.
it is an error to accept when someone purports to represent someone else that they actually do.
so i apologized for blaming the hate mail on them.

however, using these smear tactics because i don't let them use my group as a forum to advocate for their cause.
that doesn't impress me either.


For whatever reason, Ben recently put up an Instagram post insisting again that he thinks Laz isn't a racist... after calling Laz's interview in a podcast a "racist speech". And shortly before that, there was another one of Ben's posts with the title "Lazurus Lake's White Lie" in which Ben first ties Laz to unrelated events and then brings up the race incident claiming that "white runners left nasty comments in a concerted effort to convince Laz to remove the post," but if he was asleep, how did he know those commenting were white or that they wanted the post removed? Ben may have seen people respond to Laz's post that the race director apparently posted later and then deleted, but how does Ben know who commented on his own post if it was deleted before he saw what unfolded? Anyway, that's another big assumption that may be accurate, but Laz claims otherwise, that it wasn't just white people. Both Ben and Laz seem to agree that the post caused an argument, but not everyone was awake to see who was involved.

For someone who talks about fighting racism and the importance of inclusivity, Ben sure does speculate, assume, and generalize about white people, a LOT. Creating division isn't actually supporting BLM or their principles, and one person doesn't represent an entire group. 

From the Get Out There online article, Ben says, “Laz, we haven’t written you off. This would be so much easier for us if we drew a line and declared everybody on our side good, and everybody on the other side bad. We haven’t done that, and won’t because it goes against our guiding principle of inclusion, which is one of the central tenets of Black Lives Matter.” 

But the more you push the narrative that someone's a racist whom you agreed is not, the more you go against your own supposed principles. And calling someone's speech racist when it's not isn't just lying, it's potentially harmful. It comes off as an attempt to damage someone's reputation. There are better ways to promote a cause. Ben still posts about Laz every now and then on Instagram. He claims he doesn't want people to choose sides, but he certainly isn't living in the gray.

I can see why Laz is fed up with all of this. It's exactly what he was trying to prevent, people arguing, more division, nasty comments, big assumptions spread as fact, and some threatening others over the issue. None of it helps the BLM movement in any productive way. People can look at Ben as some sort of hero, but what's the cost of him speaking out in this way as opposed to dropping the attacks on Laz and simply promoting BLM in his own way? Is he planning to make a fuss at every race that doesn't allow political sentiment? I really don't want to see anything like this happen to the race director in Longmont or any other race director. 

I was hesitant to post this and took an eternity to write it because I know this is a sensitive topic. By pointing out what I see as problems in journalism and with social media, I'm not encouraging anyone to get involved, and I have already made it very clear that I support BLM and will continue to do so. I just don't think that anyone should have the right to shit all over what someone else is doing under the guise of activism. That pisses me off, no matter what the cause. 

Ways to support BLM


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Women's Running