The Difference Between Holding People Accountable and ‘Bad Shaming’

I am republishing this article, I originally posted this on May 6, 2016. The overall feedback I have received from the public regarding my work on the blog and...

I am republishing this article, I originally posted this on May 6, 2016.

The overall feedback I have received from the public regarding my work on the blog and the Boston reviews has been positive. (At some point I will try to clarify the review and filtering process – but runners that just had a bad day in Boston, or paced a friend, or just took their time, are not going to be singled out. They have nothing to worry about).

There has been debate on both ends regarding my blog posts. Again, most people are supportive. But there are some that feel like every time I post, I am shaming people that don’t deserve it. Whether I name them or not. There are others that have criticized me for not releasing the list of everyone that was identified as having cheated to run Boston in 2015.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I have made posts in the past that I probably wouldn’t make now given the attention this blog is now getting. I have not hidden from the debate – that would be easy to do – and probably better for my sanity.

I am very selective on what I post now.  I can only post on a fraction of the stories that come to my attention. As the sole writer on this blog, I have to make that decision myself.  I have to make sure what I post is accurate. If I decide to name someone on the blog, it is not to shame them for the sake of shaming them.

What is Shaming?

I found this article which I feel is appropriate on the subject. It differentiates between shaming for the  sake of shaming, and shaming to hold someone accountable. Or bad shaming vs. good shaming in the words of the author.
There are times when the level of shaming rises above what many feel appropriate.
There was an instance where a woman mentioned in the above article sent a tweet many deemed inappropriate to her 170 followers, someone saw it and reported on it and the internet went nuts and she was fired by the time her plane landed. Was it a smart thing to do on her part, No. But, in my opinion, that was an instance of shaming that went to an inappropriate level.
I got some criticism (rightfully so) for an article I posted (and removed about 24 hours later) on a runner that pretended to run Boston, and used another runner’s name and time. It was fascinating – but could have been told in a way that kept her identity private, or not told at all. I made a misttake. I was wrong for posting that article. I’ve learned from that and have accepted the criticism.
What about Rachel Dolezal? Most would argue that the reporting on her was appropriate. She rose to a position of power, partially by misrepresenting herself. It’s not much different than a fitness coach that embellishes his credentials to gain clients.
When someone is paid by clients and has earned sponsorships based at least partly on their running ability, presenting evidence that some of  their accomplishments are not legitimate is not shaming for the sake of shaming, it is holding them accountable.
Their clients deserve to know the facts. They deserve the truth. They may chose to ignore this information, but they deserve the opportunity  to make that decision. If you hire a financial planner, or a C.P.A, or go to the doctor, you would want to know if there is evidence that their credentials are less than they claim. The same holds true if you spend your money to hire a trainer/running coach. You may not care whether they qualified for Boston or not, but you may care that this person that you trusted and admired  may have been less than honest.

There are those that want me to release the names of all the runners that have been identified from Boston ’15. In my opinion, most of those cases would fall under the ‘Bad shaming’. I am responsible for everything I post. It would not feel right to me if the firefighter mentioned in the Runner’s World article lost his job over his decision to cut the course to qualify for Boston. The proper consequence, in my opinion, would be disqualification from both the qualifier and Boston.

I am reporting all of the runners to the appropriate races.

Who made me the marathon police?

Nobody did.
I’ve been posting on the blog since last August, and nearly no one noticed. I did not seek out this level of attention.

Late last summer, I had the idea to investigate a sample of Boston runners and worked with others to determine how significant the cheating was. I did want to bring attention to that issue, and not necessarily to myself. At that point I ran the blog anonymously.

Late last year I was contacted by Runner’s World after the reporter had talked to someone else in the FB group I was a part of. I agreed to work with them and provide them the results of our work for a future article. I thought this would be the best way to raise awareness and help deter cheating.

A week before that article was to be published, I wrote the Gia Alvarez post. I didn’t realize the nerve that would strike. I didn’t realize her level of popularity. But, suddenly my blog was getting attention, and the Runner’s World article was not out yet. Once that article came out the attention grew even more. I was getting requests for interviews, podcasts, radio, etc. There were a number of follow up articles – in a couple of cases I spoke to reporters, some wrote the articles just based on what was already reported on.
As a result of all of this, I began receiving more emails regarding runners to review, offers to help, etc. Suddenly I found myself in the role of an advocate for these runners that mostly wanted to remain anonymous. All while working a full time job that has nothing to due with marathons or running.

With the Added Attention Comes Added Responsibility

After I posted and removed the ‘Fake  Runner’ article, I made the decision to limit the types of articles I would write. I am not going to identify random runners that bid swap or course cut a single time. But, if the runner puts themselves out in public touting their achievements, claim to be above the rules, (Patriot’s Runner Guy) or is making money from running, and cheats, I may decide to name them in an article.
On the flip side, I too will be held accountable. If I ever were to reach an incorrect conclusion, or call someone a cheater when they did not cheat, or without the evidence to prove it, I will have to answer to that. That is why I am extremely selective in the articles I post. If I write a post, I have done extensive research to validate any data I post or conclusion I reach.
A runner in another country built a very popular running blog. He also had sponsors. He did paid reviews for products. All of this this covered his expenses to travel to some of the world’s largest marathons. He cheated in at least 2 marathons. It was appropriate to hold him accountable. He admitted his cheating, and took down his blog. I did not ask him to take down his blog, but he felt obligated to do so. I took down the article I wrote about him per his request. Any additional consequences would have been excessive in my opinion.
I welcome your feedback. I hope that posting this helps clarify my point of view.
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41 Comments on this post.
  • Anonymous
    6 May 2016 at 3:10 pm

    As someone with many running friends that sweat the Boston bubble each September, thank you for your work on contacting race directors when you find things suspicious. It's obviously up to the RD's to take it from there as to whether a DQ is warranted, but the effort you put in is much appreciated by those trying year after year to be accepted into the Mecca of Marathons.

  • Anonymous
    6 May 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Not long ago I came across this quote:

    "Truth is the mother of hatred." – Ausonius

    What this means is revealing the truth often reveals the character of those in question. For example, for anyone who has followed the Mike Rossi cheating saga knows how he has attacked anyone who questioned his lies and with violent tendencies.

    You yourself have found this to be true with others no doubt. The truth has few friends, but those who love it will not be stopped by threats or taking the easy road of appeasement. Those who embrace or enable lies lack character, and we are all made the worse for it.

    Keep up the good work Derek. Telling the truth may be unpopular, but in our purest of sports and all of life it needs to be front and center.

  • Anonymous
    6 May 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I think what you are doing is a good thing. If this blog/media attention stops even one or two people from bib swapping, bib mule-ing or cutting a course out of fear that they will get caught then that's wonderful. The BAA can't do this on their own and I applaud your efforts. For me marathons have always been an "honest" endeavor – just you, your legs and your endurance– unless you cheat or lie. What I thought we all had in common at Boston was our shared hard work and dedication to run honest times to earn our spot at the starting line. Thank you for keeping marathons "honest".

  • Anonymous
    6 May 2016 at 4:06 pm

    This is very simple if you don't want to get caught and call out don't cheat.

  • Barry
    6 May 2016 at 4:22 pm

    I think this is a great idea. It's been a hush hush thing with cheaters and over the last few years it's been going public more and more. It's unfortunate that people can't get into Boston because they lost their spot to a cheater. People should qualify for Boston by working hard and not cheating and/or cutting a course. There is no pride and satisfaction by obtaining a medal for something you didn't complete. It's also harmful and shameful to the running community to eat and makes runners look bad. Yes having someone run in your bib is cheating and you running Boston! If you trainied hard you would not need the lazy way out. Put down the ice cream and BQ and put effort into it.

  • Unknown
    6 May 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks for your work. I know many runners who have worked for years and failed to achieve qualifying times for Boston, and a few that have. Those who cheat and take qualifying spots from legitimate qualifiers are more than just cheaters, they rob those who have sacrificed and literally worked their butts off in the quest for their life goals. I don't see bringing forth the truth as shaming, I see it as karma.

  • Lee Greathouse
    6 May 2016 at 5:19 pm

    I'm glad the controversy isn't stopping you from continuing to reveal the truth. There is a huge difference between publicly shaming someone for a simple lapse in judgement and exposing fraudulent behavior, and the latter is essential for the health of our sport. Thank you for standing up for the integrity of running.

  • Bernardo J
    6 May 2016 at 6:02 pm

    Keep up the great work!

  • Anonymous
    6 May 2016 at 6:17 pm

    Thank you for your work. As one that has fallen short of a BQ, but continues to strive for it, I appreciate the effort involved in qualifying, and hate to see that tainted by those that try to game the system.

    Also being a triathlete, I'm used to stringent USAT policies on picture ID for packet pick-up, as well as officials on-course to assure rule compliance. I find it welcoming to know that those of us following the rules are being supported.

  • Unknown
    6 May 2016 at 8:00 pm

    How do you know who is registered for Boston & what times they use? Is there a database I don't know about?

  • Derek
    6 May 2016 at 8:07 pm

    You can determine the times they used based on the bib # – they are issued based on qualifying time. Had to dig for the Boston results download..didn't have a full list of registrants prior to the race.

  • That girl. . .
    7 May 2016 at 11:36 am

    But why are we not allowed to shame people that are liars and thieves??? Is it no longer PC to call people out when they do wrong? What's next? We can't arrest people for crime because it will hurt their feelings??? Oh the scandal!

  • Anonymous
    7 May 2016 at 5:32 pm

    You're doing a great job Derek – thank you for your efforts!

  • Anonymous
    8 May 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Keep up the good work and please name everyone who you think cheated. As somebody who trains, nothing pisses me off as a runner who cheats and finishes ahead of me.

  • Anonymous
    9 May 2016 at 3:55 pm

    I think of "no good deed goes unpunished."

    I know from personal experience the attacks of a cheater… Patriot Costume Cheater Dude has threatened anyone who called him out publicly and his threats have been enough to get the police involved. Only a cheater w/o conscience would go to such levels. An innocent person would say, "no, I didn't cheat and here's the proof". Cheaters often skirt the issue, are on the attack, and lack proof of their innocence.

    Derek is doing a good deed. Anyone who calls him or others who raise this issue as the "moral police" (as I have been called) are simply lacking their own morals or supporting those who cheat. It's almost a worse characteristic, in my opinion.

  • Nordic Moxie
    9 May 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Right?! "Social media shaming" is now a thing… I think Derek's POV is the right one… ensure proof is there and if it's one time, not name them, but give them the benefit to apologize; we all make bad decisions and most of us learn from it. If it's a multitude of fraudulent activities, then I think it's game-on.

  • Unknown
    9 May 2016 at 8:14 pm

    I think you got it about right. Must admit I feel uncomfortable sometimes by the vitriol that some of the exposed runners endure. Not from your blog, but from some of the responses.

    There is another reason however, why sometimes shaming is important. There is a discouraging effect. Wide awareness on how people can get caught can discourage cheaters. This awareness will come much more from real stories than from aggregate numbers and anonymous bib numbers.

    Painful as it can be, exposing has a value that goes beyond the punishment of the individual. The criteria you use for choosing that individual seem about right.

    As somebody struggling to qualify for Boston, I am thankful for your efforts to prevent people skipping the line..

  • Alexander AUER
    9 May 2016 at 8:20 pm

    One thing I am very interested in is, how many people you estimate to have cheated in total, based the sample you have researched, and on that basis, how much higher the acceptance time would have been without these people? In 2016, acceptance was 2:28 faster than BQ. If cheating was zero, what do you estimate would have been the difference. Is it material?

  • Jonathan Cane
    10 May 2016 at 12:05 am

    Keep up the good work sir.

  • Anonymous
    10 May 2016 at 2:12 am

    No proof then the shaming is unjustified and unwarranted. It is essentially cyber bullying. We run marathons so that gives us a right to act like judge and jury. I love what Derek is doing. The cases he is presenting are clear cut. I don't need to know who they are. None of my business. I do find the stories interesting but thats that. Not my place to cast judgement on anyone.

  • Anonymous
    10 May 2016 at 3:17 am

    This is just so baffling/fascinating/entertaining to me. What percentage of cheaters do so to qualify for Boston? What number would that be? 99.999 percent? And when said "qualifiers" spend thousands of dollars to go to the event they falsely qualified for… what's the end goal? Is it to brag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram about your "Boston Strong" experience, how you single-handedly fought terrorism with your BQ and running of the race, like Mike Rossi? Are you going to cover your car in Boston Strong stickers, buy 20 T shirts with the BAA unicorn on it, as well as 3 jackets (in different sizes in case you get fat next year,) and a dozen hats? Are you going to wow Bob and Gail from Accounting at the water cooler the week after the race, then explain away your crappy time with a mystery injury (again, taking a page from the Mike Rossi handbook,) or saying that it just wasn't your day, unlike your miraculous breakthrough PR that got you there?

    Seriously, cheaters. Okay, you can cheat and maybe get away with it. Then you can cover yourselves in BAA logos and shout "Boston Strong!" wherever you go. You can brag about it on social media for as long as you want. But know that you cheated and humiliated yourselves for something that #1 does NOT fight terrorism. Yeah, seriously. By driving or course cutting or bib swapping, or whatever it was you did, you did not take down ISIS. I hate to break it to you. #2 You are cheating to achieve a goal that others can do any day of the week. Yes, that breakthrough pace during your BQ is something that some people your age and gender, ordinary people like you, can do during an easy warmup jog. The difference is that they trained, and you didn't.

    So seriously, stop and think about it before you hire that bib mule, before you cut off that 10 miles of the course, before you hop into your car and drive the whole thing. You are not accomplishing anything besides risking humiliation. And cheating and then bragging about your Boston experience is like cheating on the SAT so that you can brag about getting into Arizona State.

    So, is it really worth it?

  • Anonymous
    10 May 2016 at 5:13 pm

    I completely agree with your sentiments. I'm on the side of Gia in her case. She qualified, couldn't run the year she qualified because she was pregnant, and then planned to skirt the rules to run when she wasn't pregnant. I feel like Derek presented facts, but some of the vitriol was Donald-Trump-level woman-hate. I don't hold Derek responsible, but I can understand why he feels a little guilty even through he did nothing wrong.

  • Derek
    10 May 2016 at 5:37 pm

    I don't feel guilty over the Gia article. Had she admitted that she used her friend's bib to enter 2016, I never would have written an article. The issue was that she didn't completely come clean and left out key facts.

  • Dougin Walker
    10 May 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Derek,

    I think you are doing an amazing job of being reasonable with people who attack you for completely irrational reasons, and obviously do not take the time to understand what you are doing before they condemn you. For my part, I don't see how there is such a thing as 'too much shaming' for someone who has cheated to obtain an entry to Boston, in the process denying one to someone who legitimately earned it. If someone wants to cheat at a race somewhere so he can brag to his friends about his great time and it stops there, I can see how it could be viewed that exposing such a person publicly is too much. But when someone takes something from someone else (Boston entry), or uses their false results to gain clients, sponsorship or the like, this is fraud and should be exposed. If some comments end up being 'unfairly' vitriolic, the person involved should have thought about it before cheating. You endure many comments that could be described that way for exposing cheaters. The complaints about these things always come from apologists for the cheats, who somehow find a way to say that someone didn't really cheat but only 'skirted the rules' or 'is a good person' or that the excessive abuse shows the cheater is in the right. If you expose as many people as possible, you will help minimize future cheating, which in my mind is the real reason to do all this. If you don't want the abuse, don't cheat.

  • Anonymous
    10 May 2016 at 8:12 pm

    I applaud you for your efforts. Mike Rossi's story struck a nerve with me and I love the idea of outing these frauds. It took me multiple attempts and years of hard work to qualify for Boston and I look forward to running my first time in 2017. Your blog is a wonderful. Thanks for all your time and effort.

  • Anonymous
    25 August 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Ditto for me, thanks for doing this. I hope to qualify for Boston someday and appreciate the work you are doing here. I think you are striking the right balance.

    Hopefully as people come to know that this kind of checking has been beefed up by people like you (and hopefully others) the occurance will diminish over time.

  • Anonymous
    10 February 2017 at 4:16 pm

    I say keep up your good work. The fact that people cheat should be brought to the forefront…running, to a large extent, is an honorable avocation where most folks bust their asses with hard work and determination for a silly medal, some post race bananas, and maybe a beer or two.

  • Anonymous
    10 February 2017 at 5:21 pm

    I think you are doing a Great job… It fascinates me to see these people who cheat… for what? For unearned bragging rights? For attention? I don't get it… I would rather DNF than cheat…

    Shane Higgins

  • Sasser
    10 February 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Derek,

    Based on the number of comments you'be received lately, it seems to me that your blog has been getting more attention in recent months. With that attention comes more criticism — and hopefully more praise.

    It takes someone with both a thick skin and an ability to recognize constructive criticism to do this work and keep at it as long as you have so far. Thanks for your effort to weed these people out and your ability to be as reasonable as possible every step of the way.

  • Anonymous
    10 February 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Completely agree, Derek.

  • Anonymous
    10 February 2017 at 8:04 pm

    The common theme with basically all of the cheaters is narcissism.

  • Unknown
    10 February 2017 at 8:56 pm

    STAY COMMITTED and keep up the great effort!!

  • Unknown
    11 February 2017 at 2:03 pm

    I for one thank you for all you do. I have been trying to qualify for Boston for 3 years , last year I got under my qualifying time by 1:48. This year Boston's cut off was 2:09 a couple things made this time, one they let in about 2000 less than last year, but I can help but think that many cheaters helped make this cutoff time go up too.

    I think any sport will have cheaters, it seems to be just part of our humanity. The fact it takes so much dedication for a person to qualify for Boston (probably one o fhte hardest things I have ever attempted), makes this cheating make me wonder why I'm even trying to get into a race that seems to not care much about cheaters.

    Again thanks for all you, someone needs to do this.

  • Brian Davis
    11 February 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Actually, for many of them… it appears to be worth it. For even lesser reasons. I've tracked some simple cheating at a few limited races (at first just because… I was curious). In one case I've found a family that has cut a course 4 out of the last 5 years (never even close to a BQ… and most times not in danger of being swept, either). We've seen people use bib mules for nothing more, apparently, than advancing to a slightly better corral. And I'e seen folks who have corral jumped into "A to complete a course with a pace over 18 min/mile.

    It is, apparently, "worth it" to them… although it makes me personally wonder what they are thinking, clearly, pointing out that it cheapens the whole experience is unlikely to have an impact.

    If they valued the experience… they wouldn't have cheated in the first place.

  • Brian Davis
    11 February 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Maybe. What if you can identify a cheater, but they didn't finish high in their age group, and even though they have an active social media presence doesn't talk about their races much?

    It may be a common theme… but I don't think it's a good default explanation. Read the article Derek put up on the women he caught and who had a very frank discussion with him about why she did what she did.

  • runner girl
    11 February 2017 at 11:17 pm

    i too have been trying to run Boston… hasn't happened yet…but i keep trying. i thank you for all that you do.

  • Rafal
    18 February 2017 at 5:44 am

    Thanks for a well reasoned view on his to balance the negative shaming with the sunlight effect of exposing cheating and cheaters in road racing and particularly the BQ process. Should be required reading for anyone commenting here as well!

  • Anonymous
    23 February 2017 at 7:31 am

    Derek,

    This is a great post explaining your reasoning behind what you expose and what you do not, and I appreciate that you are putting real thought behind everything here.

    I would suggest that you are getting so big now that you need to consider whether even the most blatant and shameless runners who cheat are deserving of the damage you can do by exposing them.

    I get the fact that these runners are undeservingly getting either recognition or a limited spot in Boston or in some cases modest amounts of money. But things that blow up on here have the real chance not just ruin these people's running credibility and respect but also ruin their lives.

    You are providing irrefutable proof that they either cheated or lied and nobody wants to employ a known cheater or liar. You need to consider whether these people deserve to lose their non-running related jobs over cheating in a race because that's going to happen at some point now with the level of visibility you are getting. It won't be you that fires them and it certainly won't be you that forced them to cheat but it's something to consider.

  • Anonymous
    23 February 2017 at 2:32 pm

    I love research so I love your posts. I love running and do it for – well- anyway, – Thank you for your work. I appreciate the distinction between "shaming" and accountability. If someones cheats at – running?? then what won't they cheat at?

  • RiddleOfSteel
    25 February 2017 at 5:41 am

    I run for me – to see what I can do. So cutting a course would be cheating myself. Cutting a course makes no sense for me. But it seems like some other people might run for the accolades or something, more about what others might think of them, hence why cheating has some appeal.

    I think the operator of this site is doing a service in terms of finding cheaters. On the other hand, who knows what is going in some peoples lives, and I would hate to play a part in pushing someone over the edge because of a race. The operator of this site seems introspective enough to have thought about it and even admitted some missteps or changes in approach. I hope he keeps that in mind in the event someone cuts a course and ends up a pariah.

    Also cases are different. I am not a big rules and regulations guy – at all. The woman named Gia who qualified for Boston one year but couldn't make it due to pregnancy. She qualified and that is good enough for me – not going to get too upset about that situation. Too bad she is kind of lumped in with others who simply did not qualify or cut courses.

  • MG23
    26 February 2017 at 4:57 pm
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