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The Staten Island Runner

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May 17, 2000 

NYRROArs   by Glenn Ribotsky

An ongoing commentary on issues in the Staten Island and metropolitan road racing community, complied through the auspices of the New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation.


At the outset, we apologize for the lateness of this column; the family computer has spent much of this past month in hardware hospital for ailments too numerous to mention. Now that it’s back (and presumably healthy), the delay may have turned out to be fortuitous, as it gave time to digest the most updated developments on the subjects in question. So here now are a coupla things up for discussion.

Two months back this space detailed the recent promotion of New York Road Runners Club vice-president for administration Mary Wittenberg to the newly created position of executive vice-president/chief operating officer; the position was/is construed to be responsible for all day-to-day operations of the Club, with all departments reporting to it. At the time, I had indicated that, in light of the Club’s recent struggles with its public image and member relations, it was ironic, and perhaps a little bit more indicative of those struggles than desirable, that this development, while widely reported in various media, had not found its way onto the NYRRC web site, the spot (one would think) that would be the easiest and fastest way to communicate it to the membership. I also mentioned that it remained to be seen whether it would be mentioned in the NYRRC’s monthly mailings, in the pages of New York Runner (the Club’s house magazine), or at the upcoming meeting of the Club Council. (It was eventually announced at that meeting, although it still has not appeared in the magazine or on the web site.)

Perhaps as a result of that column (judging by the feedback I receive, this space is widely perused by the NYRRC membership, and the column is sent as a matter of course to all Board of Director members known to have on-line access), the most recent personnel changes at the NYRRC have gotten considerably more widespread mention. It was announced this past month in both the New York Runner and at the most recent Council meeting that long-time NYRRC treasurer Peter Roth would be retiring from that position; he will be replaced by fellow Board member and Club Council host Andy Kimmerling (although Roth will remain on the Board masthead as an emeritus). Even more interestingly, Scott Land, the Club’s executive vice-president of marketing and sales, is leaving that spot after eight-and-a-half years (no successor has yet been mentioned).

There are various ways to interpret these developments. On the positive side, at least these most recent changes were duly revealed in places many Club members are likely to notice them; any move on the part of the NYRRC to make its inner workings less secretive is to be applauded. Many of the complaints that have been aimed at the Club in recent years have involved the clandestine nature of its machinations in selecting administrators and Board members (most readers of this space are aware that one of NYRROA’s big issues with the Club involves opening up the process for being put on the ballot for vacated Board spots). It is interesting to note, though, that both these changes involve positions responsible for the Club’s finances. Speculation is widespread that both separations were motivated, at least in part, by continued Board and activist disaffection with how the Club gets, and spends, its cash, and that they were not entirely voluntary or amicable. The Club has had more trouble growing and maintaining sponsorships lately—a number of long-time supporters of the bigger races have withdrawn (Mercedes and Advil most conspicuously), and there has been trouble replacing them. This year, despite the efforts of former Metropolitan Athletics Congress’ president and Warren Street coach Rick Pascarella to bring in Warren Street sponsor Ralph Lauren Polo Sport, the women’s Mini-Marathon remains without a title sponsor. With the NYRRC being challenged for its long-held title of pre-eminent running club in North America--the successes of the Boston Athletic Association and the Atlanta Track Club have brought them on a par with the NYRRC for the big sponsorship contracts, and other organizations founded around big races continue to reach for slices of a pie that, despite the robust economy, does not seem to be expanding much--it is likely that the Club has not made the last of its personnel changes in this area. Of course, this space was among the first to report that Ms. Wittenberg’s original hiring was to groom her to be NYRRC President Allan Steinfeld’s successor, which her recent promotion seems to confirm. It is likely that as his retirement comes closer (beset by health problems and comparisons to the more public-relations friendly Fred Lebow regime, Steinfeld is likely to step down within a few years) there will be even more shake-ups in the Club’s administration. Despite its long history, the ultimate outlook for the Club now seems less certain than it has been in decades; it remains to be seen how these and other developments of the near future will impact on the Club’s financial health or on its problematic member relations.

And now a little closer to home--in fact, right here at home. It is good to see Staten Island Runner webmaster Richie Re’s attempt to regain some modicum of control over the Live Forum part of this website, which has badly degenerated over recent months. Originally designed for real-time discussion and information dissemination (at least partly to fill the gap left by scanty media coverage of the sport in general and lack of space devoted to the sport on other Island sports forums in particular), the forum has had its share of difficulties associated with any live on-line posting place, especially sports-oriented ones. (It seems the emotional nature of sports allegiance brings out a larger proportion of ignorant nabobs than would be found in a forum of say, gourmet cooks, although I imagine they have their enfant terribles as well.) There have been a number of problems, though, that, if not unique to this particular forum, are certainly less common. Among them have been false post attribution (attaching someone else’s name to a post) and severe character assassination, both of which put their authors on the slippery slope of libel. Perhaps most idiosyncratic to the Island the forum has been characterized by chronic misinterpretation of content to an extent downright bewildering—many have been scratching their heads at responses that seem to be in no way connected to what was being ostensibly responded to. The situation had gotten so bad that many of the more serious commentators (myself among them) swore off the forum, and perhaps this was not the best thing for it, as it had the effect of leaving it even more in the hands of infantile posturing blowhards.

In an attempt to bring back some discussion of actual issues to the place (and, I’m sure, in an attempt to forestall any legal wrangles that seemed almost certain to be produced if the same course continued), Mr. Re has instituted some new rules (they can be read at the top of the forum page) and warned all within the body of the forum itself that posts that do not follow these rules will be deleted as fast as they are discovered. (The rules involve no anonymous posts—though it’s probable that this will be tough to enforce; part of the appeal of many forums such as this is the ability to post anonymously—no falsely attributed posts, and no content that might be construed as slanderous or libelous.) Again, it remains to be seen if this will have an effect, and if more serious and eloquent writers will return to the spot, or whether the forum will remain primarily the computer equivalent of graffiti-wall-as-backdrop-for-pissing-contest. Rich is to be given credit, though, for attempting to correct the course rather than tanking the project completely (of course, as I mentioned to him, this only proves that a good deed rarely goes unpunished).

I don’t usually go out of my way to recommend reading material, but I’d like to refer any interested parties to an article that, while not breaking any real new ground on the issue, was so comprehensive and even-handed that I think it bears reading by those who wonder, as it is titled, “Why Have U.S. Runners Become So Slow?” It was written by Lori Shontz of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as part of its U.S. men’s marathon trials coverage, and is reachable on the net at, or on the Runners’ World net archives of 5/5/00.

Glenn Ribotsky
Chair, New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation
84 Vogel Loop
Staten Island, NY 10314