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Friday, September 28, 2007

The Andy Norman Story

Being both American and just slightly too young, when I saw that former British athletics promoter Andy Norman had died, I hadn't the foggiest idea who he was. Apparently, there may not have been a more important trackman in the English-speaking world over quite an extended period of time.

The most honest and straightforward obit comes to us from The Guardian.
[Norman] ushered athletics through the age of "shamateurism" to its present professional state. Across three decades from the 1970s to the 1990s, he influenced, manipulated and dictated events on the track in Britain before being sacked in 1994 from the post of promotions director of the the British Athletics Federation. This followed the inquest on the athletics journalist Cliff Temple, whose suicide was, according to the coroner, partly due to Norman's intimidation.
His contribution to sport in Britain at a time of immense change was considerable, but he needed to be controlled, and for this omission British athletics officialdom remains guilty.
The T&F message boards have been quite active about this man, some opinions so strong that posts have been deleted and banning has been suggested (over there, what qualifies as "too strong" is sometimes merely being in direct conflict with head honcho Garry Hill). Let's Run is also discussing the issue.

There's no need for me to re-tell Norman's story; the above obit does a far better job than I ever could. Despite the fact that he was a bully, the athletes tended to like him, as he mostly took care of them and treated them well. But if bullies were incapable of being nice and gracious, the press would have been just as tough on GW Bush as they were on Gore, and the 21st century so far would have been radically different.

He bullied athletes who didn't do exactly as he said. He bullied other meet promoters into taking British athletes that didn't always deserve entry. He bullied administrators, including the national minister of sport. He bullied the anti-doping system, allowing athletes to avoid detection and reportedly squelching positive tests. He bullied sportswriters who dared to question anything he did, and that was his most egregious transgression.

In 1993, Sunday Times sportswriter Cliff Temple began to dig into so conflicts of interest in the business affairs of onetime jav record holder Fatima Whitbread. Whitbread just happened to be the woman Norman left his wife for (although based on her ridiculous physique, five o'clock shadow and obvious long-term steroid use, maybe "woman" isn't the right word to use). Norman threatened to drag Temple's name through the mud by spreading false rumors about abusing young girls if Temple kept it up. Being a real newspaperman (not like what we have here in the States), Temple went ahead anyway even though he knew he was crossing a powerful and vindictive man. Norman ruined his life and was publicly blamed as a factor in Temple's suicide. The book Running Scared details the whole thing.

Many who commented on his passing mentioned that there was plenty of good to go with the bad. Maybe it's because of my station in life as a rather ordinary man who's never been in a position that needed great power, but I simply cannot accept this kind of attitude. It's the same kind of thinking that leads to J. Edgar Hoover's more notorious actions; the FBI director did do a lot of good for the country but also subverted the rule of law and the Constitution.

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