Newspapers. Remember them? Those oversized pieces of paper that made your finger tips faintly black after you handled them? Remember? Sure you do. So do I. Track & Field doesn’t. If Track & Field remembered newspapers then Track & Field would be in the newspapers.
Did you know that Ben True, born and raised in North Yarmouth, ME ran 13:02 on Sunday night in Palo Alto, CA. He did. He has a great story too! Small town Maine kid grew up skiing and then got hooked on running and now…
I watched it on Flotrack. It was an amazing race. Ben outsprinted another American, Hassan Mead. Mead is another amazing story. He moved to the United States from Somalia when he was 10 years old. He ran 13:03 Sunday night. Mead lived in Puyallup, WA and briefly attended HS there before he moved to Minneapolis, MN where he graduated from Minneapolis South HS. He is now living in Eugene, OR and running for the legendary Oregon Track Club.
These are outstanding and exciting performances by Americans in an American rabbited and American dominated race on American soil. The newspapers of America, specifically the ones in North Yarmouth, ME, Puyallup, WA and Minneapolis, MN gave a collective yawn in response to the news (or lack of news).
The Portland Press Herald did mention Ben’s race in its Sports Digest section. His #9 5k time ever by an American was detailed in less than 130 words (including the Sports Digest Headline that Ben scored for his 13:02.74 as well as the complete sentence that fellow local Maine boy done good Riley Masters got for running the 2014 World #2 1500m time – 3:38.42 – at the same meet). This paragraph here, yes the one you are reading now, will have 139 words by the time I finish writing it. That is right, this paragraph has 139 words and the entire story on Ben True in the closest thing to a local paper he has, the Portland Press, had 130 words. (The North Yarmouth daily – The Forecaster – has not had a story on Ben as far as I can tell since 2012)
The Bangor Daily Press had the largest article on the epic night for Maine sports. The BDN dedicated 159 words to the True-Mead duel and the Masters victory. It’s fitting that Bangor had the longest article considering it is the real world version of Stephen King’s fictional Derry, ME and so many of his long sagas took place there.
When there even is any coverage of elite Track & Field the coverage is small. Is anyone acting as a press agent for Ben’s sponsor? Saucony, are you listening? Don’t you want Ben in the paper as much as possible? Local-Boy-Done-Good type headlines with Saucony clearly across his chest? You may not convince the San Jose Mercury News to give Ben headlines much less cover the meet even though the Payton Jordan meet was 10 minutes from San Jose and was on a Sunday night.
But, I have a sneaking suspicion here: North Yarmouth was probably having a slow news day Sunday (like the other 6 days of the week). I bet that early Monday morning, one if not all of the small-town Maine papers would have been open to the story (and maybe a picture) of Ben True, of North Yarmouth, ME running the #9 time ever by an American in the 5k – one of the fastest times ever by an American on American soil.
Believe me, I am not trying to give people more work. I just happen to think that we need to hit the easiest and most obvious places first when it comes to selling our sport. Local news in local newspapers or local TV need to be TOLD that local people are competing and achieving great things on a world stage. We spend so much time bitching about Track & Field not getting on Sportcenter when we should be bitching about Ben True not being heralded in North Yarmouth!
I remember in 2004 when my Nike Farm Team (and high school) teammate Eric Savoth made the final of the Olympic Trials 5K by winning his semifinal heat. There was a story in the local paper, the Asbury Park Press, complete with picture, on Eric and how he had been training for years after graduating Georgetown to realize his dream of running at an elite level. That one article updated an entire community about what Eric had been doing. People read it. They had a connection with Eric through location in general and many had connection with Eric through school or having competed against him. People were interested because of those connections and the Nike Farm Team and Eric benefited.
The sport benefited. Without that article Eric and his race would have gone unnoticed everywhere. In fact, outside of a handful of newspapers concentrated in NJ there was very little reason for what Eric was doing to be noticed. But in those NJ newspapers it was legitimate news and I imagine the Trials picked up a few more viewers from the Jersey Shore for the 5k final and the sport picked up a few extra fans – for 12 1/2 laps at least. And that newspaper had an interesting story that connected with its readers. Newspapers mattered way back then – 2004. Newspapers matter today. At least they can matter, if we take advantage of them.
I know that getting Ben True and his 13:02 in the North Yarmouth papers is not going to fix the overwhelming problems that Track & Field have. I also know that Track & Field has, for too long, allowed the sport to slip further and further away from relevance. The sport has been too rigid in its meet presentation, too slow (ironically) to react to changes in social media, too arrogant in it’s dealings with its own athletes and coaches and sponsors and fans. And yes, the sport has been to damn lazy to promote itself.
So I say to Track & Field: start calling newspapers! It is not above you! Develop relationships with writers and editors and publishers. No newspaper is too small. Get a newspaper to cover your meet. Treat the writers well. Tell the fans at the meet that they can read an excellent recap in that paper the next day. Or take an advertisement out in the paper announcing your meet or that your athlete ran great or that local boy Ben True wears that awesome Saucony shoe when he is training during the Winter at altitude in Arizona so he can come down to run a 13:02 in California. And have the advertisement mention wears that very shoe when he comes home to little old NORTH YARMOUTH, MAINE and runs around beautiful Walnut Hill Cemetery.
Imagine the possible reactions on the trails of North Yarmouth’s Old Town House Park after seeing that advertisement from Saucony or reading a proper article about True’s achievement:
North Yarmouth Local #1: Wow! I may just check out a pair of Saucony’s!
North Yarmouth Local #2: Maybe someday I can be like Ben True!
North Yarmouth Local #3: I had no idea a local kid had become such a stud!
North Yarmouth Local #4: Where is California?
Every elite athlete should have an agent or a PR rep from their sponsor that has on file a list of 2-3 local newspapers that they can send stories, pictures, updates and advertisements to any and every time that the elite athlete runs even half way decently.
This is not going to save Track & Field. I know. But it’s something. And if we get enough somethings, maybe, just maybe…I’m getting ahead of myself.
If we really want to save our sport, support our sport and truly celebrate our sport then we have to start with someone and we have to start somewhere. Ben True seems like a good someone and judging from the pictures North Yarmouth seems like an awfully good somewhere.