Hold on. Take a breath. Let's remember that the organization that runs the New York marathon, the New York Road Runners, didn't actually cause Hurricane Sandy or burn people's houses down. The New York Road Runners's game of New York insensitivity—the on-again off-again of the marathon and the optics of its unused generators—was a problem, at the end of the day, primarily for the New York Road Runners.
You wouldn't think that, though, if you read The New York Post this morning. There, Jeane Macintosh has written an outrage piece on how the Road Runners spend their money: "New York Road Runners Inc., the nonprofit host of the marathon, raked in $53.8 million in revenue in 2011 and handed over the bulk of its direct charitable contribution, $208,340, to support its own kids programs," writes Macintosh. But the group isn't a charity. Macintosh admits this, writing, "In its mission statement, NYRR doesn’t claim to be set up as a fund-raising charity, saying that its goal is to promote distance running and fitness and that it dedicates its revenues to those purposes." So why are we comparing them to a charity, and writing about their finances as if they were the KONY-stopping Invisible Children or Wyclef Jean's miscarriage of charity known as Yele? Their $1 million donation to hurricane victims is more than what some other New York organizations, like the Yankees, gave. And according to the Road Runners, they have raised some $2.6 million for the Sandy Relief effort.
But there's outrage, nonetheless, and people calling for Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg to lose her job. The Village Voice's Alyson Krueger outlines the cancellation blunder, surveying forums in which Wittenberg has been smeared. "Look at this monster. Sandy was a massive storm coming straight to NYC at full speed. Mary was daydreaming on the job. She fell asleep at the wheel, and we all crashed with her," reads one of the comments Kreuger found.
"Should Mary Wittenberg Resign as CEO of NYRR?" is one of the most popular topics at Runner's World forums, and "Will Mary Wittenberg Resign?" is another popular thread at LetsRun.com's forums. Sensibly (thankfully) most of the responses seem to be no. The Runner's World poll is overwhelmingly "no," while the tone of Let's Run's thread seems to go like this:
So, Who Did the Non-Marathon Hurt? Who Can We Be Mad At?
The thing is, the lack of a marathon has hurt, most of all, the New York Road Runners themselves. As Kreuger points out, there are still runners grumbling over their entry fee. The short- and even medium-range future of the organization is going to be about trying to ameliorate this bungle. The PR sting of having generators powering a media tent and backup generators sitting idly by while Breezy Point and Staten Island's citizens were literally powerless is going to haunt them for weeks to come. But it doesn't end there. The non-race is also going to hurt the Road Runners' bottom line—those financials the Post can't seem to get enough of. The New York Times' Ken Belson and Mary Pilon explain that the Road Runners make a large chunk of their money through the race (which may help explain why they waited until the last minute to cancel):
In fiscal year 2010, which ended in March 2011, Road Runners had assets of $41.2 million, including $7 million in cash and nearly $25 million in stocks and other securities, and $23.7 million in liabilities. Over all, the marathon generated $23.3 million in revenue that year.
Quite simply, that's a ton of money the Road Runners won't have. And New York's economy won't get the $350 million or so that the marathon brings in annually.
The way the New York Road Runners handled their non-marathon wasn't the best, but in the end, they did the right thing by agreeing to cancel. The question how they handle their business, though, is something we should leave to them—they have plenty of work to do, obviously. It's time to move on from the backlash.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.