Dave Albo is one of the great track photographers of our day — not just a nifty M65 shooter of geezers at masters nationals who runs a mean 400. On Saturday, he asked my opinion of whether he should bow out of shooting Ames nationals this coming week on account of its recently posted COVID-19 protocols — which include mandatory wristbands.
Athletes must show their vaccination status — wearing green bands for having gotten their shots and red for not. (Ames picked up the baton after sizzling Sacramento, the original 2021 nationals site, got cold feet over COVID spreading potential.)
Albo’s fear is that he’d subject athletes to divisive or derisive comments on social media by depicting them wearing one color or the other.
I advised him to shoot the meet — and not overthink the situation. “Masters track is a sanctuary from blue vs. red. Wristbands won’t make a difference,” I wrote him.
Today, Dave shared his decision via Facebook:
Reluctantly I will not make it to Ames to photograph the National Masters Championships after all. I will surely miss seeing people I haven’t seen for almost 2 years, and being part of the event, doing the things I usually do and love doing. I wish everyone the best in having fun, and competing at their highest level.
What motivates me to continually seek out special track and field moments and post images to social media and my website?
The sports ability to bring people together and build community. The fun, the incredible performances, the camaraderie, the spirit of competition, the beauty of the human body during athletic performance, that feeling of being a finely tuned athlete. I enjoy promoting these ideals and I believe in them.
The vaccination status shown via coded wristbands, which was only recently added into the Nationals rules, would appear in most of my images. This opens the possibility of the photos being used in negative ways that are not aligned with the ideals outlined — to divide instead of bring together. For me it’s too big a concern and I’ve therefore opted out, after earlier opting in. I’ve gotta stay true to who I am and what I’m about.
So that is that. It was not an easy decision. Best regards to everyone.
I reacted thusly to Boulder-based Dave:
So sorry to hear this. I appreciate your do-no-harm ethic. But keep in mind: Everyone competing vaccinated or not vaccinated — in public — has made their choice. Some conceivably could be mocked on social media. (I seriously doubt anyone cares enough to call out a bunch of geezer track stars). But even this is factored into entry decisions. Dave is one of our best track shooters. Thanks for all you’ve done (and will continue to do) to elevate our sport.
Later today, New York City’s Rob Jerome announced he’d spike his Iowa trip as well:
Sadly, like Dave Albo, I am withdrawing from photographing Ames Outdoor Nationals. This is a particularly difficult decision for me since during the pandemic I made almost daily efforts to keep interest alive in Masters Track and Field by posting my photos from previous competitions. I was heartened that the “Masters Track and Field” Facebook group page that I co-administer grew from 7,000 to 19,000 members during the pandemic.
I was very much looking forward to photographing Ames and seeing all my friends. I am not going to go into detail why I am cancelling but my reasons also relate to the wrist band issue. I am not an employee or contractor of USATF. I am a sole proprietor, and my attorney has advised me, in light of the current polarized environment involving vaccinations, to avoid any situations in which my photography might be used, with my knowledge or not, to further or undercut specific interests regarding vaccination.
Hopefully, I will see some of you at Combined Events Nationals and the Huntsman Games.
I respect Dave’s position, but it haunts me that social and political forces have taken our niche sport hostage. As I informed Dave, several masters track friends of mine are on the opposite side of the partisan divide. I also noted that our beloved Rex Harvey was a hard-core Republican. But Rex and I got along well because of our shared love of the sport. And he forgave my commie-pinko-libtard tendencies.
Red and green bands for vaccination status at @usatf masters nationals?
— Ken Stone (@KenStoneMedia) July 17, 2021
Odds that trolls would victimize masters tracksters on account of red or green wristbands are low, I contend. (But not as low as my recent high jump efforts — barely above the pit.)
I can’t promise that Dave or Rob’s photos wouldn’t be used for malevolent purposes. But this is where we are now. How did it come to this?
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