12 September 2020

The next morning, however, Chan noticed that his post had been deleted. There was a note from Cantrell: “I am 1000% in agreement, but this is not a political site.”

Chan responded with a series of Instagram posts in which he asserted that Cantrell’s insistence on neutrality was hypocritical. For instance: other GVRAT participants had posted photos of themselves waving “Blue Lives Matter” flags and had not been similarly reprimanded. “Deciding what is and is not political, and always catering to one group of runners, is white privilege,” Chan wrote. Cantrell replied with a post in which he stated that the GVRAT forum was not the place “to solve the world’s problems,” or to “change society.” He added that his decision to delete Chan’s initial post had been prompted by the comment vitriol and complaints that the post had inspired, rather than the post itself.

Cantrell stated that he was unwilling to allow a team to call itself Black Lives Matter, just as he would be unwilling to let a team use the “MAGA” acronym. “If I thought one heart would be changed, it would be different,” Cantrell wrote, “But all that would happen is the race would fill up with the same crap that permeates everything.” 

“The race director and many of his white customers have declared that running is their refuge,” Chan wrote in an Instagram postearlier this week. “What are they seeking refuge from, if the mere presence of an image of the words “Black Lives Matter” with no further commentary offends them and must be deleted in order to protect the sanctity of their refuge?”

When I asked Cantrell about this, he insisted that his virtual events were meant to be a refuge for everyone and that he rejected the idea that it was only his white customers who were looking to escape some of the more polarizing issues of the day. (Cantrell claims that the first person to submit a complaint about Chan’s GVRAT post was a Black man.) He maintained that the purpose of controlling the language of team names and race forums didn’t reflect a personal ideology, but an honest attempt to keep things from devolving into, as he put it, “pointless” arguments.

“Isn’t the whole idea behind ultrarunning that you run to a point when you get uncomfortable?” Chan says. “If so, why is it OK for runners to push their limits and test themselves mentally and physically, but when it comes to their beliefs about who belongs here and who doesn’t, why can’t we test those beliefs?”

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