Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 4 Oct 2002 11:26:21 -0400

Critiquing Critics


Footnotes is the official voice of the Road Runners Club of America. As such, that magazine must take care not to bite the runners who could feed it in a time of need.

RRCA has financial and constitutional troubles so serious that they nearly canceled the latest issue of Footnotes along with next year's national convention. Yet several of the magazine's regular columnists take a hard line against the very people who could give the RRCA a healthier future -- the slow, the casual, the run-walker.

Sometimes the columns take shots at ideas and approaches. That's fine; those are always fair game.

But sometimes the shots aim at groups of people for what they do --- or more often, DON'T do. That's a more questionable tactic.

And sometimes the critics get personal, with names being named (as happened in a recent issue when Jeff Galloway was the target; see my response in RC 421). That's risky for Footnotes and its parent organization.

As several of that magazine's columnists toe a similar line, it reads like the official party line of RRCA. And this at a time when that national organization can't afford to turn away anyone.

I vowed a long time ago not to speak badly of other runners' running. But how do I respond when runners criticize the running of others? By critiquing the critics, do I become one myself?

It's hard to remain silent amid the rising volume of negativity in this sport. The latest issue of Footnotes carried 12 letters in response to the recent attack on Galloway and Gallowalkers. Ten agreed with it, some in further harsh terms such as:

-- "John 'The Penguin' Bingham is no role model. It is nice if he can get some people's fat butts off the couch, but most subscribers to [Footnotes] are real runners."

-- "Call me an elitist, but I think that [a 5-1/2-hour marathon] cheapens the effort of the people who do it in three."

-- "I'm not really sure I want running to 'appeal to the masses.' Sometimes the masses get in the way."

-- "When 'everybody is a winner,' nobody is a winner."

These were criticisms of people I know or ruled out me and many others I know as "real runners." Reading these letters left me disappointed that more readers didn't come to the defense of Jeff Galloway -- and themselves -- and discouraged that the public discourse has sunk to this level.

You have to wonder why anyone would worry so much about how other people run, or run-walk -- people the "real runners" never see if they're as fast as they say. Do the critics have all their own running problems solved?

Were they never slow themselves? Or do they think they'll never slow down someday? Slow running is better than NO running.

It's no better when runners who have never been fast criticize those who are fastest. They're the critics who charge that today's Americans are hopeless losers, when in fact the best of them are doing the best they know how -- and better than their critics could ever imagine.

Running commentators aren't immune from the wider problem in sports reporting. Call it the mean-spirited chat-rooming, talk-radioing or SportCentering of writing and broadcasting.

Commentators can write or speak, and publishers can print or broadcasters can air whatever they wish. That's their right.

But that doesn't mean we have to read or listen. I've silenced a growing list of publications, websites and commentators, and suggest you do the same with those that depress or anger you. (By this same standard, critical readers often write me off as a see/hear/speak-no-evil pollyanna.)

The best way to stop the negativity from affecting or infecting you is to turn it off at its source. Ignore it and hope enough others do that it dries up without doing too much damage.

More than 50 years ago folksinger-poet Woody Guthrie penned a paragraph that I've repeated many times in my talks and at least once in my books. It's more timely now than ever, and could stand as the best defense against the rising volume of runner-on-runner criticism.

Guthrie wrote: "I hate a song that makes you think you're born to lose, no good to nobody, no good for nothin', because you're either too young or too old, too fat or too thin, too this or that. I'm out to sing the songs that'll make you take pride in yourself."

I prefer the stories that lift us up rather than bring us down. What about you?

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