Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Other Shoe Drops

In early March 2005, I wrote two posts regarding the lack of diversity on the covers and interior pages of Runner’s World Magazine. My post, Boycott “White” Runner’s World generated a flood of response and discussion, and had a ripple effect on other message boards as well.

It was with great surprise then, while attending the recent San Francisco Marathon (presented by Runner’s World) exhibitor’s showcase, to find one of the main subjects of my post, Meb Keflezighi staring back at me from the cover of the August issue at the RW entrance booth. Keflezighi won the silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Greece--the first American to medal in the event since 1976. It was a historic achievement, something you’d think the world’s leading running magazine would cover in depth. Instead, Keflezighi received a brief, one-page profile following the event, as models and fair skinned runners dominated RW’s covers and main articles for months after.

The May 2005 issue brought a long-over due in-depth profile on the greatest distance runner of the last 50 years, Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, and overall, more models of color were featured in training vinyettes. Then, with the August issue, the proverbial “other shoe dropped,” as RW issued their first cover of the past two years featuring a runner of color.

While I’m pleased with this development, it doesn’t change my opinion that RW needs to evolve beyond its advertising-driven, focus-group marketed, glossy self, and embrace the broad diversity of the running world at large. Review my previous posts and you see that I’m advocating not only for the majority of champion African runners, but for emerging talent from Asia, South and Central American and the Middle East.

In recent world rankings, runners from Jamaica, Bahrain, Morocco, Kenya, Ethiopia and Japan share the spotlight for distance and sprint events, in addition to many talented African-American runners. Although we in America like simplify race as the inclusion (or not) of African Americans, its clear the running “world” out there has a spectrum of elite athletes. Which is why I find it baffling to see an Eurocentric American profile continue to dominate the majority of pages in Runner’s World. This is not about monitoring racial quotas or a forcing multicultural aesthetic on a media periodical, but to point out the inconsistencies I see in RW's overall vision. Re-read my original post and its follow up for a detailed account of my position.

In conclusion, I see a ray of hope in the August issue. Hope that this influential publication will realize the responsibility it has to reflect the running community as it is, not as advertisers and marketing companies would like it to be. I tip my Adidas knit cap to RW’s past coverage of American athletes of color like Abdi Abdirahman and Khalid Khannouchi, now its time to make this the norm and not the token event it has been.