NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....Halfway into 2020 and it would seem that the world at large has been disrupted to the point of being unrecognizable when compared to a year ago. At least in the "First World". Then throw in what is going on in the US with regard to racial issues and economic issues and it seems like everything is in upheaval. In our little corner of things, over here in the gravel cycling community, we have not been left untouched.
Postponements and cancellations have meant that many gatherings of folks for socialization and fun that have been looked forward to, have instead become points of discouragement. Plans have been changed, and we do not deal well with changes, as I have predicted. Throw in a racially charged issue, a corporate entity, and an individual who is held in high regard in the gravel community who made a mistake, and the dumpster fires which have resulted only serve to point out larger issues within our society.
So, let us stop a second here. taking in the landscape from a wide lens view. We know that society at large, and for sure in the US, is itching to 'go back to normal mode' and not have to worry about disease, protocols, shut-downs of entertainment, and loss of income. I get that. It is a huge disruption to 'life as it should be'. But here is the thing- we have got a long ways to go before this is all over. People are weary of it, and I understand the impatience. However, that is not why I bring that up. I point this out because this is the foundation for everything else that is bubbling up around us.
Secondly, it is not debatable that racial issues in this country need to be dealt with. We are in a time of social upheaval, introspection, challenging thoughts, and revealing of closed minds. Whatever side you are on in that debate does not lessen the fact that all this change is long overdue. So, there is that foundation for all of this as well.
Now, in regard to specifics, keeping in mind all of the above, we have a person- Jim Cummins- who represents something in the gravel community. How you define that persona may differ, but when you see comments like "The DK200 is nothing without Jim", and you see that over and over, well- There are thoughts, feelings, and expectations connected to that persona that go well beyond anything having to do with the man himself. Call it 'celebrity', or 'fame', or 'cult figure' even. That part of the debate is a real thing. Many people that think these thoughts do not even really know the man, Jim Cummins, at all. They just feel he represents the Dirty Kanza 200. In fact, I'd go as far to say that the event and the persona are so intertwined as to be inseparable. That's true for many people, I am sure, judging from commentary I have seen over the past 72 hours on social media.
Taking that into consideration, along with the state of society now, we have the third part of this issue- The Corporate Entity. As you most likely know, Jim Cummins, and the rest of the DK Promotions team, sold the event to Life Time Fitness in the Fall of 2018. At that point, Life Time, realizing that Jim Cummins was "The Face" of the DK200, retained him, and that was a smart decision. Keep in mind though that now Life Time is "The Boss". They now have the ultimate say in things concerning DK and its doings. As a private entity, they have to be aware, and be concerned about how they are ultimately being portrayed by their employees. This includes, but is not limited to, actions observed on their employee's private social media encounters. It is not uncommon for folks to get fired from jobs for things that they share on their personal social media platforms. I can think of several times where individuals have posted negative thoughts pertaining to cyclists and where the cycling community has swarmed that persons employer with calls to have that individual fired. This isn't limited to cycling folks either.
Think about celebrities of any stripe. We get bent out of shape many times for things that they share on social media which sometimes has detrimental effects with their employer. I would argue that the more well known you are, the more intense this facet of our society gets. For instance, if my next door neighbor, a plumber, speaks out about a sensitive issue, maybe his small circle of friends on social media are affected. Now, if his boss, the owner of a large plumbing concern in the area says the same thing, there will be a much bigger outcry from the citizens of the area. If this were a national chain of plumbing concerns, and the CEO of said corporation makes the same statements, then it becomes a national issue. See what I mean?
Jim Cummins stands among the few race/event directors that has a fairly well known status nationwide amongst cyclists and sports people. If you say his name amongst a group of cycling nerds, chances are they know you are talking about the Dirty Kanza 200. That's why Jim is not just an ordinary person in matters of social commentary. Many have decried his firing as unfair because he was "only expressing his personal opinion", which many say Life Time had no business dealing with. Well, if you are one of those people, all of the above explanation I have offered is completely lost on you, or you are ignoring the elephant in the room on purpose, and why would you do that?
Probably because of selfish desires to see that a beloved event never changes. To have all these things ripped out from under us in a single year, less than a year, and to have your favorite event be forever changed as well? Yeah, I'd be bitterly disappointed too. But if you want to place blame for that, focusing your ire on Life Time Fitness is a misplaced effort.
Life Time is an entity that is trying to make its events welcoming to everybody. The comment made by Jim Cummins on his post was not seen as something that would make people of color feel welcomed, and Jim is the 'face', the de-facto heart of the DK200, as evidenced by the very fans of his stature and celebrity who now are saying they will never attend the DK again. Life Time cannot tell you what to think. Life Time cannot cause racism, or any other social issue, to go away. That isn't what this is about. What it is about is how Life Time has a right to control how their customers are welcomed. Remember, they bought the DK200 long before any of this happened, and Jim Cummins was their employee.
And the bottom line here is that it is done. There is no going back, and what is more, the name of the event will likely change as a result of all of this. Many people will not deal with this change well. That's a fact, and to a point, understandable. What isn't acceptable is how people on both sides of the issue are vilifying others and being completely irrational when it comes to how they are dealing with the end of the DK200's run with Jim Cummins.
And speaking of 'the end', you should understand that his time with the event was drawing to a close. To think that Jim Cummins was going to be a part of, the face of, and the reason many wanted to go to the DK200, forever, or for much longer, is unreasonable. I happen to know something about that, actually, but all I can say is that one way or the other, Jim was going to be gone. That it had to end the way that it has is very sad, upsetting, and not how many of us envisioned it to be like. But it is over.