The Sports Examiner

LANE ONE: On one of track’s best weekends, the sport was humiliated by some NFL players

"40 Yards of Gold"'s million-dollar man: Marquise Goodwin (Photo: Wikimedia)

Sunday was a great day for track & field fans, who got to watch two hours of brilliant competition at the Prefontaine Classic, including six world-leading marks, led by a powerful 9.81 100 m by American Christian Coleman over reigning World Champion Justin Gatlin.

Moreover, in a meet which was transferred – due to construction – from Oregon’s Hayward Field to the modest, 2,158-seat Cobb Track & Angell Field at Stanford, temporary bleachers with a terrible view around the second turn were added and the meet sold out at 8,128 spectators.

And there was a live, national television broadcast on NBC.

This was an IAAF Diamond League meet, the highest level of non-championship competition in the world, with $30,000 paid in prize money for each event: $10,000-6,000-4,000-3,000-2,500-2,000-1,500-1,000 for the top eight places. There were 13 Diamond League events, which paid a total of $390,000 in prize money, and three non-Diamond League events in which the promoters paid less to the participants.

On Saturday, there was a much smaller event held at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida (outside of Miami) called “40 Yards of Gold” in which 16 “speedy” players from the National Football Players competed against each other on artificial turf in an elimination format, with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin defeating Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson by 0.05 seconds to win the title … and $1 million!

Now, let’s not rag on Goodwin. He was a 2012 Olympian in the long jump, finishing 10th in the final, twice NCAA long jump champ at Texas, with a best of 8.45 m (27-8 3/4) from 2016, and a 100 m best of 10.38 from way back in 2008. He’s legitimately fast … for a football player. His best indoor 60 m time – comparable in format to the 40 Yards of Gold program – was 6.67 back in 2016. For comparison, Coleman is the world-record holder at 60 m at 6.34 from 2018.

The other finalist, Jackson, ran for LSU and had bests of 6.63 for 60 m (2016) and 10.22 for the 100 m (2017).

Big difference, and so was the paycheck.

David Furones of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, “Hosted by former All-Pro Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Johnson, along with ex-NFL 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson and DJ Irie and with a performance by rapper Rick Ross that preceded the final, a crowd of about 2,000 to 3,000 fans provided an electric atmosphere given the numbers.”

Here’s the race:

Don’t think the guys running at Pre weren’t paying attention. Coleman was:

And the event, which was conceived by New Orleans Saints received Ted Ginn, Jr. and fronted by former Cincinnati star Chad Johnson – “Ochocinco” – had plenty of entertainment attached, and even drew significant interest from betters (check this in-depth preview). The pay-per-view price was $39.95.

Jackson, as runner-up, reportedly got $50,000, still 66% more than the entire men’s 100 m field made at the Pre Classic.

There were a lot of unhappy folks in the track world commenting on this on Twitter, none more fired up than Houston’s head coach (and former world 100 m record holder) Leroy Burrell and assistant coach Carl Lewis (nine Olympic golds):

You get the idea. There is something fundamentally embarrassing in having a made-up sideshow award $1 million to Goodwin while the best sprinters in the world run for a few thousand dollars.

Is this easy to fix? NOOOO!

I have tried, twice trying to put together enough money for a domestic circuit that would pay at least what the Diamond League does today. But I couldn’t get companies to buy in, in part because I wasn’t the “governing body” that could sanction such events.

There are those who might be able to make such a program happen, but there are dramatic issues to be solved, such as track & field’s 42 individual World Championships events and how far the money goes to cover them all. And that’s just the start.

But on a weekend when one of the year’s most dramatic meets was held in front of a sell-out crowd and the total payout was a fraction of what one former Olympian earned for four seconds of running, something is very, very wrong indeed.

Rich Perelman

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