Who Tipped the Feds?

The Ironman corporation is triathlon's Google: ubiquitous, global, loved and hated, sometimes loved and hated by the same person concurrently. Many are conflicted by this brand. Me too. I love the idea of the Ironman Foundation, but, I hate that Ironman says, "The Ironman Foundation Gives Back." What I'd much prefer is, "Ironman's Customers Give Back," or, "Ironman Athletes Give Back," because isn't that really what happens? See? Love and hate.

It's that way with the Lottery. I love that it exists. I prefer it didn't exist at a price (although I understand the pressures of business). Obviously the Government of the United States of America felt likewise. The very Assistant U.S. Attorney who investigated and settled the case with Ironman is himself an Ironman. The press liaison at the U.S. Attorney's office in Central Florida sent me one fact-check revision on the news piece on Slowtwitch announcing the end of the Lottery program. Jimmy Muench is "an 8-time Ironman Florida finisher, not the 4-time finisher," as I originally, inaccurately, wrote. "Please note the correction."

I suspect Mr. Muench, while sitting across the table from Ironman's lawyers, said something like what my mother used to tell me when my behavior warranted it: "I love who you are; I hate what you did."

It turns out two triathletes are very probably the proximate cause of the attention the Feds begun to pay to Ironman's Lottery program. Mark Machell is a frequent Slowtwitch Forum Reader. His "sig" on the Slowtwitch forum is: TRSTriathlon.com followed by the Twitter handle @_dark_mark. That Twitter account is how Mr. Machell chose to break the news to the world:

"We are taking full credit for the DOJ's smackdown on the WTC." He then describes how Ryan Heisler, another Slowtwitch Forum contributor, a TRS columnist, and @rrheisler on Twitter, authored a letter to the Department of Justice describing what he felt was an illegal lottery operated by Ironman.

Mr. Heisler described to Slowtwitch the lead-up to yesterday's news as follows:

"Kelly [Burns Gallagher], Mark [Machell], and I collaborated on a research project in November and December on the prior finances of the Ironman Foundation. This is how we really got to know one another.

"Around this time, Ironman tweeted out the Gift of Kona drawing. KBG [ Kelly Burns Gallagher] and I had a back and forth regarding the legality of it... I drafted a form letter which is the one that you see in Mark's Tweet, regarding what appeared to be a violation of Florida law. I then forwarded it to Mark... I personally did not ever send anything to the US Attorney, the Florida Department of Justice, or any other state. But I am the author of that letter.

"So I'm not going to say 'we take full credit.'

"I didn't ask Mark to delete his tweet because, well, I didn't think anybody would take him seriously," wrote Mr. Heisler to me. "Clearly, that is not the case."

I certainly took Mr. Machell's tweet seriously, that he is taking "full credit." Mr. Heisler initially announced on his Twitter feed, "well, what do you know: Florida DOJ ordering forfeiture of $2.7 million from WTC because the Kona Lottery is illegal." Mr. Machell immediately responded to his tweet, "@rrheisler Think it had anything to do with those forms for Florida we filled out a few months ago?"

Ryan Heisler explained his motives to Slowtwitch. "I believe WTC to be a beacon of the sport. And as such, I want them to be these stewards of the sport. I hold them to a very high standard. This is why, when I see them doing something that appears to be off with the Foundation, I criticize them. And it was that critical nature that led to me drafting that letter."

Both Messers Machell and Heisler were original signatories to the TriEqual manifesto, and have been frequent and ardent supporters of adding 15 slots to the women's pro field at Kona. Ms. Burns Gallagher is part of TriEqual's leadership. She is an attorney, and at my request – insistence – Triathlon Business International (an organization of which I'm a member) extended an invitation to her, to instruct race directors at our annual conference on how to inoculate themselves against volunteer lawsuits (which she expertly, competently, did).

Messers Heisler and Machell are close to, or sympathetic to, a number of organizations or movements. Including TRS. And TriEqual. They have also spent time on our Reader Forum. Ms. Burns Gallagher maintains she is not included in the "we" to which Mr. Machell refers in his tweet, the one where he writes, "We are taking full credit." I believe her. Bad optics for the TriEqual organization to have its fingerprints on this (and a draconian way to try to get the extra 15 slots they're looking for).

Is Mr. Heisler (pictured just below) embracing his inner Snowden? According to a KRC Research poll taken a month ago, about 64 percent of Americans hold a negative opinion America's hero-traitor Edward Snowden, the balance felt positively. Many are conflicted, turning my mother's tactic inside out: They hate who he is, but love what he did. The triathlon audience will probably be similarly conflicted about the actions of these two men.

I also contacted Mr. Machell about whether he'd like to comment and he respectfully declined.

On Twitter, after receiving credit from Mr. Machell for outing Ironman, Mr. Heisler wrote, "co-credit to @kburnsgallagher"

"now you give me credit . . ." Ms. Burns Gallagher tweeted right back.

Was Ms. Burns Gallagher a prime mover in the outing of Ironman to the Feds? I don't see evidence of that. I've spoken to Ms. Burns Gallagher about the Ironman Foundation, and at length about the legality of the use of volunteers. And about Lance Armstrong's various legal exposures (she's written about this on Slowtwitch numerous times over the years). Ms. Burns Gallagher has, as an attorney, engaged in theoretical legal discussions with all comers, often to the benefit of triathletes. But she insists her interest in the Lottery program's legality was simply academic, and Mr. Heisler's comments support this.

If Ms. Burns Gallagher's interest in the legality of the Lottery program was conversational – the topic of the Lottery program's legality has been a subject on our Reader Forum in the past – Messers Heisler and Machell converted talk to action, and now they'll reap the praise heaped on them, and suffer the calumnies of those who consider them disloyal to the sport. Two differences between them and Edward Snowden: the U.S. Government agreed with their legal interpretation; and they aren't forced to live in Russia.