One rule meant to be broken

Originally Published: October 12, 2004
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Twenty-six high school cross country runners in Virginia Beach, Va., were disqualified after the fact from a meet for wearing their Lance Armstrong yellow rubber bands. That'll learn the rebellious little miscreants the evils of ostentation.

But don't look upon this as anal retention gone horribly wrong, of administrators with too much time and too little sense on their hands. Consider this instead an opportunity for LanceCo to move into a new marketing line.

Tattoos.

But first, the facts, as provided by the Virginian-Pilot.

It seems that most of The Ramblin' 26 were dinged for wearing the LIVESTRONG yellow strips (one was hammered for wearing an elastic hair tie), because the strips are classified as jewelry by the folks who run the cross country program, and jewelry is illegal because ... well, because you know how much faster people run with a pierced tongue.

We're being facetious here, not to mention cheap, but silly is as silly does, and this, kids, is silly, not to mention borderline stupid.

But we have interrupted ourselves, and you know how annoying that can be.

It seems the coaches were informed on at least two occasions that jewelry was not permitted to be worn by the runners, even though many runners wear wristwatches to see how fast they are running, or the time in Ghana, or the right amount to tip the kid at Starbucks.

The athletes themselves were then told at the starting line about jewelry. They were not, apparently, briefed on the administrators' decision to declare a direct link between DeBeers and yellow rubber bands.

So the children ran. And one by one, their efforts were undone when they crossed the finish line.

"It's the stupidest rule I've ever heard," the Virginian-Pilot quoted Bayside coach Lanny Doan as saying, and that's a hard quote to get wrong. "We're talking about a rubber band."

And then there was Ocean Lakes coach Mike Nestor, who opined, "Basically we lost because of a cancer support bracelet."

"Bracelet?" Aha! We have the smoking amulet, Watson!

Now we are sympathetic to administrators who worry about kids' safety because, well, most of the parents are yelling "Kill 'em" from the stands. In fact, the rubber band could be problematic in contact sports if a kid gets his finger caught in another kid's bracelet, so we'll give them that.

But to fail to spell out clearly to the athletes that the LIVESTRONG bands are officially jewelry until advised otherwise, not to tell them at the starting line that LanceCo's best-selling product is illegal, well, that's the adults' screw-up, and the consequences of their bungling should be undone forthwith. And no, the IOC's sense of speedy justice in the Paul Hamm case should not be considered as precedent. Sort of now-ish would be better.

As for the rest of it, whether a rubber band can be considered jewelry under any circumstances -- well, we'd pay good money never to be burdened with hearing that little debate, ever. I mean, this doesn't even rise to the level of much ado about nothing.

Thus, the next move is clearly LanceCo's. Little fasteners so that the rubber bands can hang innocently from an athlete's shirt, or shorts, at a buck a pop -- you know, part of the overall marketing strategy.

And if that doesn't work, then headbands. And if that still gets an athlete DQ'd for defying The Man, then tattoos. Right across the wrist, in bright yellow, just like the real deal. With the legend "DyeStrong" in bold letters across the back of the tattoo.

The reasoning here is simple. Most kids have a tattoo, or are waiting to get to college so they can do it behind their parents' backs. Plus it can give the tattooing industry a more savory image -- I mean, huge guys with ZZ Top beards and torsos that look like the USA Today weather page have feelings, too.

And the best part of all? There is not one high school administrator in North America who would tell a kid at the starting line, "Son, either you sandpaper that tattoo away right here and now, or that arm will have to come off."

Well, most administrators. There is this one guy I remember ...

But we digress.

Let this be a cautionary tale, then. Athletes, get your rubber bands approved, or take them off until after the race. Coaches, make sure this is covered in the pre-race pep talk.

And all you big shots who think of stuff like this -- think of something else, lest we start to think you are wearing your rubber bands as chokers.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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