Originally published in Competitive Cycling magazine, January 1979, under the title “Springer gets USCF’ed”.
Chris Springer was a four time national champion as a Junior when he came to the starting line at the
The Northern California-Nevada region produced a number of outstanding junior riders in the 1970s. In addition to Chis and Greg there was Marc Brandt, who also had a run-in with the USCF establishment. He liked to play head games with everyone and, after he freaked out the team coach for the Junior World Championships, he was kicked off the team before they left the country. Greg Lemond went on to greater glory but Chris flamed out in 1978 and Marc shortly thereafter.
As we learned later, the charges against Chris were based on fourth-hand hearsay about something that never happened. At the same championships, Kent Bostick sat out a lap on the back side of the road course, then was awarded and accepted a medal. However when his misconduct was discovered, he received only a slap on the wrist. The difference in treatment was apparently based on political issues. I investigated the Springer case, wrote an appeal for Chris and also wrote the article below for Competitive Cycling, a then-lively but now long defunct periodical that was transformed the following year into Cycling USA, the official magazine of the USCF. That transformation was the result of another crooked political deal but that is another story.
We return now to 1979, when the following article appeared in Competitive Cycling and we still thought that Chris could make a comeback. It was sporting of the editor, Jim McFadden, to print this article given that he was one of the USCF directors it accuses of misconduct.
The disqualification of Chris Springer at the 1978 National Championships in Milwaukee and his subsequent suspension may come back to haunt USCF officials. He had been charged with throwing a firecracker that struck a pedestrian [CC, Sept. ’78]. It now appears that no such incident occurred. There is also evidence of bungling in both the investigation and the disciplinary procedures used by USCF officials. Riders Andy Finch and Robert Peterson were disciplined at the Nationals in similar fashion and the handling of their cases appears to have been similarly defective. Responding to an appeal by Springer, the staff of the U.S. Olympic Committee is undertaking a review of his case. USCF officials have been invited to defend their actions and a showdown on the rights of athletes appears imminent. Behind these developments is a kind of detective story about rowdy riders, authoritarian officials, incompetence, indifference, and cover-up.
At the Line
Chris Springer, who rides with the San Jose Bicycle Club, came to the Nationals with an impressive record. He had won four national championships in previous years as an Intermediate and Junior and had been a member of the U.S. Junior Worlds teams in ’77 and ’78. If he could successfully defend his track title, he would be the first person in U.S. history to win a Junior national championship all three years.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to try. When Springer came to the line to race in the Junior Road Championship, Mike Walden (Chairman of the USCF Board of Control) approached him, grinning broadly, and handed him a note. It said that he was “disqualified” from the Nationals and would have to move out of the dormitory at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. This was an unexpected and shattering development. The note said nothing about what he had supposedly done nor which USCF regulations he had broken. The part about moving out of the dormitory was also hard to understand – he wasn’t staying there.
Since it was just a few minutes before the race was to start, Springer asked Walden if he could appeal the disqualification and still compete. Walden told him that if he appealed there would be an instant hearing. He said that riders Andy Finch and Robert Peterson had been similarly disqualified and that Peterson had appealed and lost. Springer shortly found Robert Peterson and asked what happened in his case. He confirmed that three officials had been chosen by Walden as an “appeal board” and that even though there had been no witnesses against him, he had become an instant loser. Faced with such swift “justice,” Springer reluctantly withdrew.
Springer stayed in town for both the road and track races. He watched from the sidelines the championship events for which he had prepared so many months. He did not receive the travel expenses that are normally provided to returning National Champions. When he tried to attend the closing banquet, he was turned away on the grounds that it was “for riders only.”
To understand how the disqualifications came about, we must go back a bit further to Super Week in Milwaukee. USCF President Otto Wenz had arranged with the Milwaukee School of Engineering to let participants in the Super Week races and the Nationals stay in their dormitories at low cost. This kindness was repaid with general rowdiness and frequent vandalism. There were reports of bicycle races in the halls, obscene telephone calls to the operator, pilfering of linen closets, firecrackers going off in various places, and a water balloon thrown out of a window that broke the windshield of a car parked below.
A probable contributing factor to this problem was that the USCF provided no effective supervision in the dorms. When left completely on their own, adolescents in general and young bike racers in particular are not a notably well-behaved group. While the resulting chaos should have been predictable, it was nonetheless regrettable. As a consequence of these acts, the dorms will probably not be available to riders next year.
After a week or so of increasing rowdyism, school authorities requested that USCF officials do something about the situation. There were at least three things that could have been done: (1) improve supervision to keep things under better control, (2) eject troublemakers and require payment for damages, (3) call in local law enforcement authorities in more serious cases. The officials chose a fourth alternative: punishment of offenders under USCF regulations. Otto Wenz asked the dormitory administrators to start collecting names of offenders and to turn them over to the USCF. Shortly thereafter, Mike Walden was given the names of the three riders.
Suspension was one possible way to punish the offenders, but this couldn’t be done quickly enough to prevent their participating in the Nationals. (Under USCF Bylaws a suspension can be appealed. The subsequent hearing must be scheduled at least 2 days in advance and the rider is free to compete in the meantime.) It seemed unreasonable to let such serious troublemakers ride in the Nationals.
Pete Stevens (USCF Legislation Committee Chairman) came up with an imaginative solution to the problem: acting as Chief Referee of the Nationals, Mike Walden could disqualify them. It was Stevens’ theory that the Referee has unlimited discretionary power in deciding who may race.
Don Peterson (Springer’s coach) subsequently wrote about this procedure in a letter to Mike Walden [I actually wrote it – LE], with copies to Otto Wenz and a number of other Directors. He asserted that this disqualification violated due process as specified by the USCF Bylaws and published guidelines of the U.S. Olympic Committee. He pointed out that the latter guidelines require that a hearing be held as follows.
1. The plaintiff must be given written notice of the administrative hearing two days in advance.
2. The plaintiff should have in hand written specifications of the charges brought against him.
3. The plaintiff should be made
aware of the penalty to be imposed if the charges are proven.
4. The hearing body should be impartial in the case of an athlete who is being disallowed to participate in Olympic competition; otherwise a standing federation sub-committee should suffice.
5. The plaintiff should be allowed to hear all testimony.
6. The plaintiff should not be denied counsel, but there is no duty to provide him with counsel.
It was clear that these procedures had not been followed. Peterson’s letter was never answered by Walden or any other officials.
There was apparently another flaw in the initial handling of the disciplinary action, though it didn’t become apparent until much later: no one bothered to obtain written statements from witnesses. In fact, there was no attempt by USCF officials to investigate the accuracy of the complaint or to talk to witnesses. In later discussions, some of the principals in this action said, in effect, that they instinctively knew that Springer was guilty. And besides, he was a rotten kid who deserved to be punished for earlier offenses.
A Year to Remember
At the Board of Directors meeting on August 3, there was more discussion of vandalism in the dorms. There were no probes into how it could have been prevented or whether supervision was deficient. The focus was on punishing the offenders.
Just prior to the meeting, Mike Walden had received a written complaint describing acts of rowdyism. It had been hastily compiled by a secretary in the dorms. Board members didn’t inquire into whether the charges had been investigated or whether the accused riders were in fact guilty. Mike Walden was quoted as saying he had eyewitness reports in writing. He wasn’t called upon to show those reports. <>Walden proposed that the three riders be suspended for two or three months. This wasn’t enough for the angry Board. There were proposals and counter proposals for various periods. A faction led by Jim McFadden held out for a long suspension and won – one year.
Two weeks after returning home, Chris Springer received a letter of suspension from Mike Walden. His racing future looked rather bleak. The year’s suspension meant that he would miss the ’79 Nationals too and would not be eligible to qualify for the Pan Am Games. He was angry about what he regarded as unfair treatment, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. If he had been formally charged at the Nationals, he could have investigated, talked to witnesses, and found out where the charges came from. By now, potential witnesses had returned to their homes in various parts of the country and he didn’t know the addresses of many of them.
He did talk to Walden briefly during the Nationals and had learned that that he was being accused of throwing firecrackers in the dorm, but he received no specific information about time, place, or witnesses. He had denied the charge, but thought that it might have been a distorted account of another event: he described to Walden, an occasion one evening when he and some friends launched bottle rockets over an empty field near the school. It was his impression that everyone there had enjoyed this occasion. Certainly he had not heard of any complaints.
Walden generously took this information into account in the letter of suspension. He charged Springer with dropping firecrackers that exploded in the face of a pedestrian and shooting rockets, even though he had received no complaints about rockets.
Curiously, the suspension letter omitted three important pieces of information: when the alleged firecracker incident occurred, who witnessed it, and which USCF rules were broken. The same information was also missing from the letters received by the other riders, Robert Peterson and Andy Finch. Perhaps leaving out the date and time of the incident was a clever ploy to prevent Springer from proving that he was elsewhere at the time. In fact, at this writing, USCF officials have never
About witnesses, the letter said, “ . . . you were witnessed lighting firecrackers by the school people, not USCF people”, but who were the “school people”? Walden did not enclose the complaint that he had received from the dorm secretary. Springer didn’t know of its existence yet. The failure to cite any broken rules may have been another oversight, but it hid a fundamental flaw in the charges: there are no USCF regulations that authorize punishment of rowdyism outside sporting events. Thus, there appeared to be no basis for punishment of any of the three riders, even if their alleged offenses could be proved. In recent months, several people have offered imaginative interpretations of certain passages in the USCF Constitution or Bylaws that they think imply such a disciplinary authority, but their arguments
An appeal of Springer’s suspension was sent to the National Board of Appeals on August 25. It cited the above defects in the charges and others. Springer denied any involvement in a firecracker incident. He stated that he had gone to the dormitory to visit friends on two occasions, the evenings of July 25 and 29. He named four people who had been with him during these visits and had witnessed his activities.
Concurrent with submitting the appeal, friends of Springer approached a number of USCF Directors by letter and telephone, trying to interest them in the apparent mishandling of both the disqualification and the suspension. Responses ranged from polite indifference to argumentative rejection. After two written exchanges, Director Jim McFadden still remained convinced of Springer’s guilt, but he was willing to examine the evidence. He wrote, “At the upcoming Oct. BOD meeting I am sure the Springer case will be discussed and I will ask Walden ahead of time to bring his collaborative [sic!] evidence (namely, the signed statements of eye witnesses).” Somehow, that probe fizzled.
In mid-October, Springer received from Al Toefield (Chairman of the Appeals Board) a copy of the complaint letter that had been the basis of the suspension. (This was over two months after it was written). He saw that it named two riders as witnesses: Brian Smith and Mark O’Brien. He didn’t know how to reach Smith, but he had O’Brien’s telephone number – in fact, Springer had listed O’Brien in his appeal as one of the people who had been with him during visits at the dorm. He called O’Brien, who lived in Commack, New York, and asked him what he knew about the complaint O’Brien said that he had no idea how they got his name as a witness to a firecracker incident. Springer urged him to communicate with the Appeals Board. O’Brien subsequently telephoned Al Toefield, then wrote a letter to the Appeals Board just before he entered the Marine Corps.
Later developments showed that the Appeals Board had received no statements from anyone who claimed to be an eyewitness to a firecracker incident, but had received letters from four people who said they were with Springer at the dorm and had seen no firecrackers. This makes it very hard to understand the subsequent actions of the Board.
Springer was still expecting that there would be a hearing of his case (in accordance with USCF Bylaw VIII, Section 4) and that he would be able to participate by telephone. Instead, the Board of Appeals met by themselves and decided that he was guilty as charged, but that the suspension period should be reduced.
The October 21-22 meeting of the Board of Directors included a review of Springer’s case along with other disciplinary matters. This item had been placed near the end of the two day agenda. By the time they got to it, most Directors were eager to finish and catch their planes. When Al Toefield asked them to confirm the Appeal Board’s recommendations, they did so with almost no discussion.
A letter dated October 30 was sent by Toefield to the three suspended riders saying that “Diligent perusal of written documents, depositions and telephone interrogation of witnesses, disclosed that the individuals named herein were involved in certain incidents as complained of by the Milwaukee School of Engineering, but that the penalty as voted by the Bd. of Directors of the U.S.C.F. for said alleged acts was not commensurate with the acts committed.” It went on to say that the end of their suspension period was shortened to December 31, 1978.
By late November, a decision had been made to appeal the Springer case to the United States Olympic Committee on the grounds that USCF officials had repeatedly failed to observe due process. All available evidence was collected and reviewed. There was only one piece of written evidence on the firecracker incident, namely the dorm secretary’s report, which said that Springer “ . . . was caught throwing cherry bombs, firecrackers out of the dorm windows. These incidents were verified by our Student Advisor and two other bikers. (Brian Smith 413 LMH & Mark O’Brien 119 LMH)”. The numbers apparently referred to dorm rooms. It is interesting to note that this complaint did not mention firecrackers exploding in someone’s face, as charged by Walden in the suspension letter.
On November 27, telephone interviews with witnesses were undertaken to clarify the basis of the complaint. Mark O’Brien had already stated in writing that he hadn’t seen a firecracker incident. Brian Smith was reached at his home in Tucson, Arizona. He said that he had seen no firecracker incident and had no idea how his name had been linked to such a report.
Coming from the other direction, the secretary who had written the complaint at the Milwaukee School of Engineering was interviewed. She confirmed that she was not an eyewitness. She said that the firecracker story came from another secretary who got it from a Student Advisor, who had heard it from the riders (Brian Smith and Mark O’Brien). The other secretary, who happened to be in the same office at the time, confirmed this story. Subsequently, the Student Advisor (Phil Maggio) was reached. He was unable to confirm the incident described by the secretaries. Thus, there appeared to be no eyewitness reports of a firecracker incident involving Springer. An even more remarkable discovery that emerged from these interviews was that each of these “witnesses” said that they had never been interviewed by USCF officials. In other words, there had never been a serious investigation of the charges.
Al Toefield telephoned the writer on December 19, well after he had received a report of the above findings. He candidly remarked that he felt that Springer should not have been disqualified; that he should have been permitted to ride pending an appeal. He also said that the basis of the entire disciplinary action was weak in that there appeared to be no applicable USCF regulations. When asked why the Appeals Board did not make a clear statement of these views, he responded that to do so would mean saying that Mike Walden had been in error, but since the Appeals Board reported to Walden, that wasn’t a good idea. Instead, they chose to close
Other Movies, Same Plot
The experiences of Andy Finch and Robert Peterson in dealing
with both Mike Walden and the Board of Appeals were similar to Springer’s.
According to Finch’s suspension letter, his offense “ . . . involved your
swearing at the secretary at the Institute. While mouthing the obscenities on
the phone to the secretary, she sent two school employees to your room with a
master key. They entered the room and witnessed you with the phone in hand,
shouting obscenities into the phone. The secretary was still at the desk in the
office on the receiving end of your obscene phone call.” Andy Finch has
denied that such an event occurred and there was a fairly obvious flaw in this
charge: Finch’s room had no telephone. The basis of this charge remains a
mystery – the supposed witnesses were never identified, so they couldn’t be
Robert Peterson was charged with such serious offenses as walking on a first floor window ledge, riding his bike in the hall, and blowing smoke at a female clerk, again with no witnesses identified and no dates or times given. He denied the smoke incident and effectively refuted it. He admitted the other charges in part. To a hard-line disciplinarian, Peterson’s offenses might constitute reasonable grounds for ejection from the dormitory but there was clearly no violation of USCF regulations and certainly no basis for either disqualification or suspension. These facts were forcefully pointed out to the Appeals Board in a letter from Peterson’s attorney. Despite serious flaws in all three disciplinary cases, they passed reviews by the Chairman of the Board of Control, the National Board of Appeals, and the Board of Directors (twice). It appeared that the USCF establishment was prepared to stonewall indefinitely.
USOC it to ’em
On December 1, Springer sent an appeal to the U.S. Olympic Committee, together with documentary evidence. He acknowledged that there was no practical way to undo the effects of the disqualification and suspension, but stated the following objectives:
"The main reason for my appeal to your organization is that I believe that the mishandling of my case is not an isolated incident. I would like to see such abuses curbed before the racing careers of more cyclists are damaged.
The best way to do this, I believe, is to call to the attention of the USCF Board of Directors and other officials the need for more careful attention to due process and consideration for the rights of athletes. Specifically, the following points relevant to my case can be made:
1. When an athlete is accused of misconduct, charges should
be brought and a hearing should be scheduled in an expeditious manner, with
adequate time for investigation. Pending hearing of the charges, the athlete
should be free to continue in competition. Any resulting medals or prizes could
be impounded. <>
2. Charges should include a specification of which regulations were broken, the principal supporting allegations, names of known witnesses, and potential penalties. <>
3. A careful investigation of charges should be made by an impartial official. In general he should not consider hearsay testimony (“So-and-so told me that such-and-such happened”) but should seek eyewitness reports. He should attempt to resolve conflicts or inconsistencies in the evidence by seeking additional information. <>
4. At the hearing the athlete should be permitted to hear the evidence and be given an opportunity to refute it. <>
5. Officials who ignore due process should be suspended or removed.”
In response to this appeal, F. Don Miller, USOC Executive Director, sent a letter to USCF President Otto Wenz on December 15 saying in part that “. . . we require that the USCF respond to the specific allegations listed on page three of Springer’s complaint.” (i.e., the statements quoted above). The USCF reply is being awaited with interest.
Mike Walden has been invited to comment on the case, but he decided not to go on record at this time. Chris Springer doesn’t want to talk about it either. He is still upset, but is trying to forget the recent ordeal.
What to Do
Late last year, after the Springer case started coming apart at the seams, several USCF Directors volunteered to reopen the investigation so that the record could be set straight. While that might be a nice gesture, it is almost pointless now – Springer has served his time. People who think that this injustice was caused primarily by inadequate investigation and that it can be rectified by retroactively deleting the suspension have missed the lesson of this entire affair. The primary problem was the consistent disregard of due process – there was never an attempt at a fair hearing.
If the charges had been made and heard promptly, the facts would have sorted themselves out. Barring a rider from competing without formal charges and without a hearing is bad enough. Keeping the specific charges a secret until everyone has left town makes it worse. Withholding the names of witnesses for months more compounds the injustice. Knowingly confirming false charges, even on grounds of expediency, is foul play. The stampede for punishment by USCF officials trampled the rights of Andy Finch and Robert Peterson just as thoroughly as Springer’s. They too were disqualified without receiving written charges and without having broken any specific USCF regulations. They too were suspended without any eyewitnesses being identified. Their appeals were also denied by an appeals board that knew the charges were baseless under USCF regulations. The hard but important work ahead is to improve both regulations and education. A “Bill of Rights” is needed to clarify the rights and responsibilities of riders and officials in disciplinary cases and all parties should be better informed on these issues.
Riders cannot be expected to respect the rules if officials can break them and get away with it. Officials who flagrantly break rules, especially rules about fair hearings, should be suspended just as quickly as riders, still following due process. Directors should try harder to break the “old boys club” image. They should beware of accepting too much on good faith and fellowship. They should be more willing to stick their noses into each other’s business in cases where something doesn’t look right and to speak out if they are convinced it is wrong. The primary loyalties of Directors should be, not to each other, but to their constituents – the clubs and riders who elected them.
The Milwaukee incident turned out to be a turning point for both Chris Springer and me. In the course of investigating the Springer case it became evident to me that the USCF political structure was corrupt in several ways. I had been a member of the Legislation Committee for a couple of years and had initiated a project to update the racing rules, but at that point I decided to run for the board of directors in order to fight the corruption more directly. I was elected to the board and then decided to run for Chairman Board of Control against the director who had brought the charges against Greg. Unfortunately I won and have been enmeshed in bicycle racing politics ever since.
I promptly introduced legislation requiring due process in suspension hearings and also making the appointment of appeals juries a responsibility of the President rather than the Chairman Board of Control, who was also the chief prosecutor. The Chairman Board of Control didn't object because by then I held that office, so both bylaw reforms were adopted.
Because I was then on the USCF board I could no longer be an advocate for Chris’s appeal. A New York lawyer volunteered to take the case as an add-on to Robert Peterson's case, so Chris put up a $500 retainer. As it turned out, the lawyer was sleazy -- he used the money to fly to Colorado Springs to visit his daughter in college but never got around to filing a legal action until it was too late.
As it turned out, the stern letter from the USOC Executive Director to the USCF President in response to Springer’s appeal was ignored by USCF and nothing came of it. USOC regulations were later amended as a result of pressure from the Athletes Advisory Committee of USOC so that the Executive Director was obligated to follow up on complaints but the USOC has continued to be mired in apathy and corruption throughout its existence.
As a result of this fiasco, Chris left the sport. As Marlon Brando once said in an old movie, he “could have been a contender” but didn’t get a chance. Working within the USCF board of directors, I managed to get the appeals procedure changed so that suspension hearings and appeals were subject to due process and the prosecutor no longer appointed the jury – or course, by that time I was the chief prosecutor so there was no one to object to this "loss of power". I also got the bloated 36 member board of directors successively reduced to a more practical size in the teens and ended such practices as paying directors who worked as officials at the nationals at a higher rate than other officials. However there was still a long way to go in reforming the governance of cycling.
In January 1979, when the article above was published, the sport of cycling was quite different from today, both in the number of participants and the structure of the governing body. There were only about 7,500 USCF licensees then, up from about 4,000 a decade earlier, but down from the 10,000 or so in 1974-76, following the Arab oil boycott of 1973. The fee for a racing license was raised from $12 to $15 in 1979 to support an annual budget of about $200,000. USCF was mainly an organization of volunteers, there being no full time staff members, but District Representatives received a portion of licensing and race permit fees. The U. S. had no significant representation in professional racing and nearly all world championship medals won by the U.S. since 1912 had been won by women and juniors.
In 1979 the board of directors was composed mainly of bike club officers, bike shop owners and district reps, who blithely ignored conflicts-of-interest while voting on their income. I had some initial success in reforming USCF initially, which reduced the petty graft, but things went off track after 1993 when I initiated a broad reorganization aimed at bringing all branches of the sport into one organization that came to be called USA Cycling. My plan, which would have provided democratic representation of all participants, was surreptitiously altered with the collusion of USCF staff into one that gave control of the organization to commercial interests. In 1995 they took control of this nominally “non-profit” corporation and have since run it to suit their financial interests. When they held a secret meeting in February 1999 and illegally removed members’ voting rights, I filed the first of two successful lawsuits against them, but unfortunately the crooks are still in control.
Meanwhile, Chris Springer returned to competitive cycling in1998 as a master, when his son decided to race, and did quite well.