Symmonds kicked off World Team


USA Track & Field made it official Monday morning and dropped U.S. 800-meter champion Nick Symmonds from the team that will compete at the World Outdoor Championships later this month in Beijing.

But Symmonds still has options, according to attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar.

Hogshead-Makar is founder and CEO of Champion Women. She has been an advocate for women athletes and athletes in Olympic sports, and taught classes in sports law while a professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law.

She said that Symmonds could challenge the USATF decision under Section IX of the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. She likes his chances.

To review, Symmonds refused to sign USATF's mandatory "statement of conditions," which includes a provision requiring athletes to wear Nike-branded, official team apparel at all team functions.

The statement does not define "team function."

After making the U.S. team, Symmonds and other athletes who qualified for Team USA received letters from USATF informing them that athletes must wear official apparel "throughout the trip, including at the team hotel."

Also included in the letter was this:

"Accordingly, please pack ONLY Team USA, Nike or unbranded apparel ..."

Symmonds, sponsored by Brooks, balked. He contended this violated his contract with Brooks, and was objectionable because he doesn't share in revenue USATF receives from the Nike sponsorship.

"This is a clear overreach by the national governing body," Hogshead-Makar said. "National governing bodies don't get to tell athletes what to wear all the time."

Hogshead-Makar said this isn't a gray area.

"It's a done deal," she said. "National governing bodies can't do that. They can't tell athletes what to wear when they're having coffee in the hotel. Period. They can't do that unless they have paid the athletes to endorse that particular product. ...

"USATF is constrained by statute and by its own regulations and policies."

In the days leading up to the Sunday deadline USATF had imposed for Symmonds to sign, he asked for a definition in writing of "team function" in return for his signature.

He said he didn't get one.

On Monday, USATF spokeswoman Jill Geer issued a release that began, "We respect Nick's decision not to represent the United States at the IAAF World Championships."

On Twitter, Symmonds fired back, saying that characterizing it as his decision not to compete offended him.

He followed up by writing a piece for the Huffington Post in which he quoted a study by economist Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College that projects USATF will gross $42.92 million in revenue in 2015, and share $3.46 million — 8.1 percent — with athletes.

"In other professional sports," Zimbalist writes, "athletes roughly earn between 25 and 35 percent of revenues in individual sports and between 45 and 55 percent of revenues in team sports (other than MLS)."

In his study, Zimbalist questions the financial figures USATF has reported for 2014, and suggests there appear to be $3.52 million of missing funds.

Responding to the Zimbalist study by email, Geer of USATF wrote: "We are audited each year by both the USOC and a private auditor, and our tax forms are online.

"USATF in 2015 anticipates that we will spend roughly 50 percent of our $30 million budget, or nearly $15 million, on a combination of cash directly to athletes, USATF payment of athlete costs and High Performance Programs that support elite athletes. USATF last year publicly committed to spending an additional $9 million on elite athlete programs between now and 2020."

Geer did not respond to Hogshead-Makar's comments.

In his piece for the Huffington Post, Symmonds wrote: "As things stand, now instead of competing for Team USA, I'll be watching the race I qualified for from my couch."

Then again, maybe he has options.