It’s My Body and I’ll Billboard If I Want To

As my post on Thursday alluded, it’s a rough time for endurance sports. Perhaps some of this comes from the insanity associated with chasing after and keeping sponsorships, most of which have performance requirements tied to them. When you have to perform to pay the bills, it’s not a huge leap to see why people might be willing to bend or outright break the rules.

That’s why I find this letter by Nick Symmonds incredibly timely. As he says, major contracts are few and far between (and increasingly a thing of the past). As such, many of us cobble together sponsorships to support our running. When we race, we want to acknowledge the companies who support us. We want to make sure everyone knows which products we believe in and count on. As the rules are now, however, my body isn’t my body at USATF events. The Nuun tattoo I wear to thank that company isn’t allowed. If I want to recognize a sponsor in addition to my team, I essentially have to rely on pre and post race gear to get the word out. It’s not that this doesn’t work: I spent 2 hours after the Craft Brew race answering questions about Nuun thanks to my trucker cap and tattoo. But it would be nice to have my singlet adorned with the logos of the companies that got me there.

In nordic skiing, for example, athlete uniforms reflect all of their sponsors. This year, for example, the US women have white uniforms that have nordic related sponsors like Craft Performance, Fischer and Rossignol next to non-nordic specific sponsors like Visa and Subaru. The other nice feature of the U.S. Ski Team is that although there are team specific sponsors (Craft, L.L. Bean and others), athletes can also personalize their uniforms and hats with other sponsors, such as their boot maker or fuel company.

I’m not saying I want to look like a NASCAR rig. I neither have that many sponsors nor the intention of making my quads a billboard. What I am saying (and what Symmonds is saying) is that athletes should have the opportunity to recognize all their sponsors on their race gear without penalty and that companies should have their logo readily visible on the athletes they so graciously sponsor.

What do you think the solution is? Should USATF be able to dictate what athletes put on their bodies? Where do we draw the line on bodies as billboards?

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