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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Truth Costs

In May 2011, Neil Browne posted an inoffensive tweet about Lance Armstrong which the man himself couldn't leave alone. After this now infamous exchange, Neil was fired by NBC Sports/Versus. 

Here, Neil's wife Pamela Wood-Browne shares how "questioning the Armstrong myth" affected them. 

In October last year when the USADA Reasoned Decision hit, you posted on Google Plus “Proud my husband Neil Browne has been one of the truthtellers about doping in cycling even though there have been costs.” Neil said himself the costs of not being pro Lance were the NBC Sports firing and losing other writing gigs. Were there other costs? 

It is hard to know of all the possible jobs or freelance gigs Neil missed out on because he questioned the Armstrong myth in his writing. He was told of instances when pro cyclists were reluctant to risk having him work for them and had interviews where he was questioned about “being controversial.” Other losses included being blacklisted from interviews, financial support for our local cycling website, and even suddenly being removed from his rewarding mentor role with the Hincapie U23 team. Sometimes it was just the noticeable lack of friendly interactions when he was covering races.

What kind of relationship did Neil/yourself have with NBC Sports/Versus prior to the firing?

Neil wrote a regular column and additional coverage of cycling. When they added live chats to their TV coverage of the Tour de France we produced them and that expanded into producing their live chats for other races.

Did Neil foresee anything like NBC Sports firing him if he refused to be pro Lance?

No, it was a complete shock especially since it was such an innocuous Twitter exchange that was the cause. I mean really? Fired because Lance Armstrong called him a douchebag?

Was that tweet exchange the catalyst to his firing and losing other gigs?

That exchange was supposed to be the reason but it seemed that there was more behind it. That exchange also was the birth of the “Neil ruined cycling” meme. Announcer Dave Towle jumped in supporting Lance and accusing Neil of ruining cycling. It was so absurd that people continue to joke about it today even though few people remember the origin.

What was the effect of the Versus/NBC Sports firing and other job losses? Was there any financial worry? 

Losing the work with Versus/NBC Sports was a big financial blow for us. We moved to Greenville in 2009 to help my elderly parents whose situation had taken a major turn. I was especially grateful that we made the sudden move (we planned to move there later) because my dad died 8 months later. When we moved Neil was expecting to have work with Road Magazine but that commitment unfortunately turned out to be a mirage. Since then we’ve worked to build a business together as Browne Eye Media. We were finally getting our financial footing with our work for Versus and launch of CarolinaCyclingNews.com in 2010. In a short time we took a big hit. Just as we were leaving to cover the 2011 Tour of California we got the word that it would be our last gig for Versus and when we got home we were notified that Hincapie Sports was cancelling their advertisements on our site.

How did it affect you emotionally?

It’s been hard with both the stress of financial and family concerns, as well as, seeing Neil lose opportunities he should have had. We’ve put our heart and soul into contributing to the sport of cycling, both bringing more attention to the sport locally and creating interactive opportunities for cycling fans worldwide.

Did Neil receive any “unpleasantries” as a result of the tweet? And were any of these people other journos/media people? Did you?

There have been events that we used to attend that we stopped being invited to and obvious snubs, even some friends told us they couldn’t speak to us in public.

Had Neil had any altercations with LA or his people before that tweet exchange? Or any kind of a similar negative reaction during his career for not being pro lance?

I’m not aware of any incidents, unless you count being blocked on Twitter by Lance. Quite a few people have had that honor though.

What kind of a toll did this take on yourselves and your relationship?

We've had some health challenges that we attribute to the stress over the past few years, which of course add to the financial stress. It’s been a long time since we've been able to spend some relaxed time together.

Neil also said this under your October Google Plus post: “the Hincapies have black-balled as well as ostracized me on a local level…it was George’s people that wanted me to be quiet and go away.” Has this changed/improved? Have they apologised? If not, do you expect them to?

Neil appreciated getting a call from Rich Hincapie apologizing and stating that Neil had been right. Ironically, at the same time that the Hincapies had been distancing themselves from us, we had been accused of being too soft on them in our coverage for our local cycling site.

How did you react to Fat Cyclist’s recent post about Lance warning him not to go on Tour Chats saying he should be prepared to be attacked by Neil?

That was really surprising to us, that our show would be in Lance’s circle of concern.

In seven words or less, sum up the Lance/Oprah interview

Stunning first few moments, then, awkward disaster.

And moving on! What exciting things do you have planned for Tour Chats and Browne Eye Media that you can share?

We’re excited by our recent move to Spreecast. Our focus on a live interactive format has its technological challenges and Spreecast is doing a great job of creating the best tool. They have some great mobile-friendly developments coming which will be awesome!

Finally, will you guys be making to it to Louisville this month for the World Cyclocross Championships?

Neil and I will be at the Worlds and we’ll be looking for TourChats fans in the crowds!

Follow Pamela and Neil on Twitter @wellsoulbikes and @neilroad

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