By: Patrick Larson
I want to preface this by saying that I am a consumer of LetsRun, both the articles and the message boards. There is some quality content that LetsRun provides the running world, but they are also home to some real egregious, anonymous message board posts that highlight some of the worst opinions in the running community.
Now let’s get into it. Amidst all the drama around Tom Schwartz parting ways with Tinman Elite, one thing stood out to me that I don’t think should go unnoticed. Within the message board, LetsRun co-founder Robert Johnson mentioned how neither party, Tinman Elite or Tom Schwartz, wanted the news of the coaching change to get out to the public.
“When we heard Tinman was no longer coaching the group, Jonathan called Tom and said he was no longer coach ing but the guys wanted it not talked about until after the Trials and Tom wanted it kept quiet as he was worried it would impact his job search. We tried to honor that request. So we deleted a few threads but I soon realized there was no way this was sustainable.”
The part of that statement that I’m a bit troubled by is the fact that the founders decided to censor the message boards when they saw the news start to circulate among the public. Now, Rojo claims that he was doing this to protect both parties wishes, which I genuinely think is true. But, why do the founders of LetsRun feel any obligation to pander to the wishes of people at the center of a fairly big news story in the running world. This is even more astounding when you consider that part of their mission statement includes the following: “LetsRun.com is real and authentic. We’re not going to hold your hand on LetsRun.com.” But, apparently they are ok holding some hands…
So what exactly is LetsRun?
Well they claim to be journalists that cover some of the biggest events in the world saying “we’re there and we cover them like no one else.” While this is certainly true to a certain degree, things start getting a little more gray when you consider that most people associate LetsRun with their message boards.
The LetsRun website states that “The boards are THE place that runners from all over the world go for the latest news, results, and gossip in the running world. While we moderate the forums, one unique feature that encourages the free flow of information is if you want to be anonymous on our forums you can be.”
There are no glaring issues with this as websites have every right to moderate their message boards to whatever degree they wish. But, let’s take a look at what they deem worth removing from their boards.
Types of posts that will be removed from the LetsRun message boards:
1. Violent/Pornographic posts
2. Hateful conduct:
Posts that threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, or disability will be removed.
3. Private personal information
5. Copyright/trademark violations:
So in summary thus far, we have a website claiming to do traditional journalism work while also providing a community message board where they encourage free flow of information, as long as it is in line with their community guidelines. Additionally, we know that Robert Johnson removed multiple threads talking about Tom Schwartz parting ways with Tinman—although, I’m not sure what community guideline that violated.
Sure, the LetsRun founders certainly have some personal relationships in the running world and probably feel a certain obligation to help certain people out for whatever reason. But, what troubles me is how quickly they decided to remove threads about the Tinman situation, but fail to remove other threads that clearly violate their own community guidelines.
Within 10 minutes, I was able to find multiple posts on the boards that clearly violated their own guidelines. In a thread about Mary Decker Slaney, one particular poster said “She was a C*** but she was a winner.”
In a thread titled “why does everyone hate Rupp?” a person responded with “because he’s a f**”
Finally, in a thread about Kara Goucher a poster wrote “Goucher is the whiniest bi*** ever to run professionally."
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the LetsRun message boards are littered with tons of keyboard warriors who are able to hide behind an anonymous name and spew whatever they want. I could go on and on with examples, but I’ll spare you the incredible amount of bullshit that exists on the message boards.
I believe in free speech and also believe that a place like LetsRun should be able to moderate their message boards how they want. However, I do have an issue when Robert and Weldon Johnson don’t uphold their own guidelines for the message boards. This was made so obvious in this case where Robert Johnson chose to delete multiple threads about Tom Schwartz leaving Tinman, threads that were presumably not against their message board guidelines but instead were threads they felt they needed to delete to protect the parties involved for whatever reason. However, when it comes to setting up any sort of rigor and infrastructure to moderate the message boards up to their actual guidelines, they fail miserably.
In a 2020 interview with Outside Magazine, Robert Johnson claimed that it is impossible for the site’s modest staff to monitor everything that goes up on the message boards. Yet, when pressured by Alberto Salazar in the mid 2000s, Robert Johnson installed a filter on the message boards that made it impossible to use the words “gay” and “rupp” in the same post.
In the interview, Johnson told Outside that LetsRun’s negative reputation among women is not good for business saying, “we should have way more brand advertisers than we do.”
Yet, LetsRun has historically been unwilling invest in additional moderators that might be able to help clean up the boards and subsequently made the site more appealing to outside advertisers.
So what is LetsRun exactly? A journalism website? A place for free speech? A place for only certain speech? Or is it a place where founders Robert and Weldon Johnson get to put “community guidelines” on the website to make it seem like they care about moderating what goes on the boards but ultimately will just pick and choose which types of people to protect and which types of comments to allow. In this case, we saw Robert Johnson choose to try and protect Tom Schwartz and Tinman Elite by deleting threads that didn’t violate their own message board guidelines. On the contrary, they have failed for years to actually moderate up to their own message board guidelines.
In all honesty, I would be more ok with the type of dialogue being had on LetsRun if the founders chose to not censor anything. Rather, we are left with some half-assed community guidelines and little actual enforcement--until the founders are strong-armed for whatever reason.
Admittedly, I'll be perusing the message boards soon enough to read what everyone has to think about whatever topic is trending that day. But maybe someday I'll be able to scan the boards without seeing sexist or racist comments being made.