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Being Nice/Being Right
by Glenn Ribotsky

December 19, 2001 - In regard to Jack Minogue's column of November 24th ("Orazem Made Odd Odyssey to Activism"), I think then piece sheds more light on the writer's somewhat circumscribed notions about activism (though, in sad truth, these are probably somewhat reflective of prevalent local attitudes) than it does on Bobby Orazem's actual body of work. In short, the column reflects the notion that how a criticism is presented is as important as whether the criticism has actual merit, that the style is on a par with the substance.

As a founding member and former chairperson of the running advocacy group known as the New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation (NYRROA), I have had occasion to be involved in many of the same issues that Mr. Orazem has. Sometimes we have held similar points of view; at other times we have differed quite vigorously. At no point in our disagreements, though, have I ever thought his points were "nitpicking", or the rantings of a "nut-job", as Mr. Minogue put it. Such labelling is the classic ad hominem tactic--it attempts to dismiss the criticism by undermining the source rather than defeating the argument. One would think that a journalist, particularly, would understand that it matters little how loudly or undiplomatically" a criticism is presented-what is fundamental is whether or not it is accurate.

Considering the legitimate issues with the sport here on the Island, and the history of those in positions of authority who could effect change-a history that includes more than its share of arrogance, know-nothingism, glacial pacing, and absolute stonewalling-it shouldn't be a surprise when activists/critics get frustrated, and strident, and even rude; being impolite doesn't automatically make them wrong, however. (In the interest of fairness, I myself have been similarly characterized by Mr. Minogue regarding some of my opinions on issues before the running community-most recently, he characterized me as being concerned with "petty stuff" in regard to problems associated with the administration of the Pepper Martin Run in his column in July. He did not address my specific points, or whether or not they had any accuracy.)

In light of this, Mr. Minogue's piece almost seems to be backhanded in its praise of Mr. Orazem, as if the latter's stature has risen because his approach has "moderated", and because he has graduated to what in Mr. Minogue's opinion are the "larger", more legitimate issues. I would argue that the particular issue involved, and whether Mr. Orazem's presentation is now more muted, are irrelevant. What matters is whether on a given issue he has the better argument. (Certainly he seemed to on the incident reported at the PSAL indoor meet--for coaches to complain that athletes had no recovery time because the meet was actually running on time would deserve nothing but the strongest approbation.) One wonders how Mr. Minogue would feel if Mr. Orazem suddenly decided to upbraid the Triple Crown Race Series--Mr. Minogue is one of the main organizers of the Series (which includes the Advance's own Memorial Day Run), which has been frequently criticized for its own administrative difficulties and its organizers reluctant response to same--or take issue with any other area Mr. Minogue might feel touchy about.

--Glenn Ribotsky