Did Mike Francesa Actually Cancel The New York City Marathon?

The biggest critic of the New York City Marathon being run in the wake of Hurricane Sandy was WFAN/YES Network host Mike Francesa. Which is why many are attributing its eventual cancellation to his irate on-air rants, including one former NYC marathon runner, who says Francesa “never ran more than ten steps in the last thirty years.”

As Superstorm Sandy (nee Hurricane Sandy) swept into the Northeast, paralyzing millions of residents in terms of their power, their gas tanks, their living quarters, or worse, many events were either canceled or postponed, from campaign stops for both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as the number of days until the election shrinks into the single digits, to an all-important Google event. (And really, who doesn’t like them some Google?)

In addition, there were several sporting events, particularly in the New York area, that were affected by Sandy: what was supposed to be the first major sporting event in Brooklyn in 55 years on Thursday night, a crosstown matchup between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets (nee the New Jersey Nets), will actually be a Barclays Center opener on Saturday night vs. the Toronto Raptors. The Knicks’ home opener at Madison Square Gardem on Friday night went on as scheduled, and the Giants’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is a go for Sunday afternoon, despite the Steelers’ inability to stay in the New York area the night before the game, or some means of transportation not being restored this weekend, which could serve as an inconvenience to fans attending the game.

But there was one annual event that was scheduled to take place this weekend. It’s an event that has encapsulated all five boroughs of New York City since 1970: the New York City Marathon. Originally a single race, but split into two races for male and female participants in just its second year of existence, the marathon, like so many other landmarks in sports, have fallen victim to corporate sponsorship, having been known as the ING New York City marathon since 2003.

Three days before the 43rd edition of the marathon (42nd for the ladies) was scheduled to run, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was adamant that it would not be sidelined by Sandy, insisting “it’s a great event for New York.”

Which is true – but only if New York itself is in great shape.

Especially the borough of Staten Island, where the annual trot of thousands begins.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s steadfast stance on the marathon despite post-Sandy conditions did not sit well with Mike Francesa, the Mayor of sports in New York City (not to be confused with the Mayor of sports in San Antonio, Mike Taylor).

As WFAN added an FM simulcast, the station’s popular afternoon drive host did not mince words, spending a great deal of his program on Thursday and Friday bashing Bloomberg.

Some choice quotes:

“The fact that the marathon is still going on is mind-boggling… You have people with no power. (In) Staten Island, they’re still recovering bodies. It’s ridiculous. They’re trying to kick people who are displaced out of hotels for runners. Thank God there are some runners now who are not running in protest.

“How can you do this? And if the idea is to show that New York is above it, and to make the mayor look good, knock it off… Instead of putting people on a marathon, put them in places where they can help. Have people orchestrate to get more workers in here… We’ve got a crisis, this is not getting better… We’re not making a lot of progress.

“If Bloomberg’s ego is so big that he wants to show the world we can do this on his watch, you know what? You want to show us something on your watch? Get the power on… The city is still dark and you’re running a marathon. His legacy will be that he approved a marathon through a city that was dark, and they’re digging out bodies. Someone’s got to get to him, whack him on the side of the head and tell him, ‘Hey, mayor, listen, I know you’re bright and I know you think you’re a genius, but this is a bad decision.’

“This will be something that the mayor will regret forever if he doesn’t change his mind.”

Listen to the open of his November 1 broadcast and the entire hour of his November 2 broadcast below:

At just after 5 PM on Friday afternoon, or less than 48 hours before an estimated 45,000 runners were set to go, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the event had been canceled. In a statement, he argued that while resources used in the citywide recovery of Hurricane Sandy would not be diverted in any way by the running of the citywide marathon, “it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division… We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event – even one as meaningful as this – to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track.

“We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it.”

Social networking played a heavy hand in this decision. Millions of Americans, led by angry residents of New York City, some of which are still without power or shelter, took to Twitter to oppose Bloomberg’s original intention of running the marathon in Sandy-battered boroughs like Brooklyn. This was also the case on Facebook, where even the page of the marathon’s corporate sponsor, ING, had felt the wrath of incensed people.

There were also plenty of incensed folks checking in on websites such as Barstool Sports.

But certainly, the most incensed of them all was WFAN and YES Network personality Mike Francesa.

In fact, some believe his ire for Bloomberg in the wake of his original plan, his rants that were heard on 50,000 watts on the AM dial (and later 6,200 watts on the FM dial) and multiplied across the world via streaming, and of course, television, were so effective that people are giving him credit for single-handedly canceling the running of the 2012 ING New York City Marathon.

And it’s not just the expected callers that praised Francesa for putting a kibosh on the race. This was the vibe on Twitter in the 5 PM hour, moments after the race was called off:

Likewise, folks on Facebook believe the radio host was partly, if not fully, responsible for the cancellation of the marathon. Folks like Russel Harvey, a past NYC marathon participant who labeled Francesa “a fathead who blabs on the radio, and never ran more than ten steps in the last thirty years, and that was probably [able] to catch a cab.” He added that calling off the marathon “defeats the beauty and ideal of the sport” of running, and vowed: “If I were still living in [New York], I would run the course, on my own, and I encourage everyone who had intended to run on Sunday to do just that.”

So, was it indeed possible for a “radio fathead” to have major influence in the cancellation of the New York City Marathon? Consider the time it was officially called off: after 5 PM on a Friday afternoon, usually considered a “news dump” in terms of relevance of information. Yet it’s also considered peak listenership in afternoon drive programs, such as Francesa’s.

And note how Bloomberg labeled the outrage against the running of the marathon “divisive.” The definition of the word is as follows: “Tending to cause disagreement of hostility between people.” Well, Francesa was doing that on the air for twenty years with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo. And there have been many other radio hosts, be it sports talk or political talk, that have been referred to as “divisive” – including Francesa’s former WFAN colleague Don Imus by then-Senator Barack Obama. (Of course, what Imus said five years ago that earned those remarks from Obama were a different sense of divisiveness.)

Whether or not Mike Francesa wants to claim responsibility for the 43rd running of the New York City Marathon being canceled, you can’t help but think he had at least a little pull in the decision.

Looks like that new FM signal for WFAN is working wonders.

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