Update: On Tuesday evening, Gannett released a statement regarding the future of RAGBRAI, following the staff’s resignation.
On Tuesday, RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz announced that he “and the entire RAGBRAI staff [have] resigned.” Juskiewicz’s announcement was originally made in a open letter posted to the official site of the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (more commonly known as RAGBRAI), where it was quickly removed, and in a Facebook post.
“I can no longer be an effective leader when my principles are compromised by the leadership of Gannett/Des Moines Register,” Juskiewicz wrote.
Juskiewicz said his conflict with the Register’s leadership is the result of the paper reporting on Carson King, the Iowan who became a viral sensation after holding up sign asking viewers of ESPN’s College Game Day to send him beer money on Sept. 14.
After King received an unexpected and overwhelming response to his request, he donated the money to the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
The Register published a story on King, noting some racist tweets the 24-year-old King had posted when he was 16, which produced angry pushback from some readers, and was taken up by conservative political sites as an example of so-called “cancel culture.”
King, of course, was not canceled in any way. He was honored by Gov. Kim Reynolds, hailed around the country for his generosity and, most recently, had a bobblehead created in his image. The reporter who wrote the Register story, however, was fired after some racist tweets of his own were unearthed.
The King controversy reached RAGBRAI on Sept. 27, when Juskiewicz posted on social media that RAGBRAI would donate $50,000 to the children’s hospital in support of King’s fundraising efforts.
“I watched the reactions from RAGBRAIers all over the world that both praised the donation but also had serious questions about the motives behind it,” Juskiewicz wrote.
He said he asked his bosses at the Register for permission to “issue a public statement answering the hundreds of questions that hung like a cloud over this upcoming RAGBRAI.” According to Juskiewicz, it took days to receive a reply, and when an answer finally arrived, it was “no.”
“I was then informed, ‘Leadership and our PR professionals are in agreement that we don’t want to issue any more public statements on this matter — it is largely dying down publicly, and they see no advantage to re-igniting it at this point,'” Juskiewicz wrote.
“I have always been totally transparent with the RAGBRAI Nation and have earned their trust since my first day in 2003,” Juskiewicz explained. “In these past few weeks, my efforts to communicate with our loyal riders has been consistently blocked as it did not mesh with the company’s PR narrative to spin the Carson King embarrassment.”
In his post, Juskiewicz does not explain when he and fellow staff members Scott Garner, the assistant ride director, and Andrea Parrot, RAGBRAI’s media and merchandise director, reached their breaking point, but before their resignations were announced on Tuesday, the three had time to set up a site for a new cross-state bike ride, Iowa’s Ride.
“I would hate to ruin the summer enjoyment for people that have trusted our leadership for the past 16 years,” Juskiewicz said in his Facebook about launching a competitor to RAGBRAI.
According Iowa’s Ride’s site, the first ride will be a seven-day event in July 2020.
Juskiewicz said that all proceeds from the new cycling event will go to Iowa charities. Half the proceeds from the first ride will go to the children’s hospital. “The remaining proceeds will proudly be given to charities in each of our host communities,” the event’s site said.
RAGBRAI is still scheduled to take place July 19-25, the same week as Iowa’s Ride.
The Register and its parent company Gannett had not made any public statements regarding the RAGBRAI staff’s resignation at the time of publication.