Would Cap Hate YOU?
“I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.”
– Steve Rogers
The more astute among you will have by now realized that it takes precious little to move me to speak out about my displeasure, wherever I should find it. However, I have been biting my tongue on this for a while, and it’s been bothering me.
I voice these things now as much for me as for you, because after a while a bad thought just feels like gristle in your teeth, and you can’t enjoy a bite of anything else until you spit it out and move on.
So let’s have done with it.
Like Captain America, I have this weird thing: I don’t like when people pick on other people. Particularly when there is a clear imbalance, whether it be power, skill, or knowledge.
I like it even less when there is the safety of anonymity.
And I like it least of all, perhaps, when the bullies don’t seem to be aware of what they’re doing.
Over the past several days, I’ve seen enough bullying to last a lifetime.
For the past week or more, there have been an alarming number of “hysterical” so-called fail videos circling around the Internet. In particular, they seem to focus on CrossFit.
(I was unsure of why there was such a dramatic uptick, but after a moment of idle thought it occurred to me that the CrossFit Games are currently in progress, so one must assume a connection.)
These videos are mean spirited. They are condescending. They are, by any definition, bullying.
Depending on the way you do it, sharing them is bullying. If you’re doing it to join in the riotous laughter at the expense of others, it’s petty and small-minded, not to mention completely unproductive. I will not post any of those videos here, for obvious reasons.
Before I go further, let me just make mention of my general distaste for the hair-trigger impulse to label something bullying or shaming when it is not so. I think we go to far with it, most of the time.
I can (and, perhaps, will) write about that ad nauseam, but for brevity’s sake I will herein constrain myself to write specifically about the issue initially mentioned.
To that: this time, we’re clearly talking about bullying. Especially when the bully in question is a fitness professional.
Look, you’re obviously entitled to your opinion of CrossFit. And, of course, you’re going to prefer well-executed exercises to those done poorly. I know I do.
But sharing videos specifically intentioned to mock people who are trying to improve does not express that opinion, leastways not in any coherent fashion.
While I dislike the spirit of that action, I understand it (sort of) when it comes from outside of the industry. People want to feel like one of the cool kids, so they make fun of things that fall outside of the bounds of acceptability of their particular tribe. Fine.
If you are a fitness professional, however, this is disgusting behavior. Reprehensible behavior. You are a failing at every turn, because you are betraying the very spirit of what you set out to do: help people.
This is the truth of the matter: you know better. The vast majority people in the videos don’t*. They just don’t. If they knew better, they would do better. That, plainly spoken, is the issue. They don’t know better.
(*Yes, I will admit that many of them do know better. Doing some insane exercise–like ring pull ups with the rings suspended from another person’s neck–is asking for trouble. It’s something that most people would instinctively “know better” about. But when a person drops a barbell on their head after a snatch because their coach hasn’t actually taught them how to snatch, they don’t deserve to be mocked.)
Someone decides they want to get in shape. Or back in shape. Or perhaps just challenge himself. Herself. Whatever.
They’ve heard about CrossFit. Of course they have. Everyone has heard of CrossFit, because CrossFit is really good at making itself known.
So they go to the local box and start doing CrossFit Things: they clean, sometimes without learning how; they jump on boxes, sometimes despite previous injuries; they train hard, sometimes to their detriment.
They do these things because they do not know what you know. They do not know better. They only know that they’ve heard CrossFit is awesome, and someone they know from work got great results from CrossFit, and that CrossFit is really hard so it must work.
Based on that limited knowledge, they decide they’re going to bring their ass to that box three times a week, and do what they’re told do as best hard as they possibly do it.
They’re in there. They’re trying. They’re doing what their coach tells them. They’re doing it exactly as well or poorly—no less—as they are allowed to do. They’re doing exactly as well as they’re expected to do. Exactly as they are coached to do.
And they are recorded, for encouragement, or posterity, or whatever it is people record training sessions for.
Until someone with a sharp eye and a malicious streak sees the videos, snags a bunch of clips representing the worst of the worst, and stitches together a compilation of fails.
Rather than lambast the creator of said video for their hateful inanity, you join in the chorus of mockery. If I have not made myself clear: this is a terrible thing to do.
You decry CrossFit because you don’t like it, because there is often bad coaching, and that is perhaps sensible…but you also tear town these poor people who are being made sport of.
The people who are “failing” at CrossFit are doing what they’re told. They’re usually beginners. Especially when it comes to the movements they fail at. They don’t know any better.
And then you come along. You, with your years of experience, and your expert eye, and skills you spent years dedicatedly working to attain. You, whose job it is to do these things well.
At worst, you just out and out make fun of them; at best, you condone the mockery, and participate peripherally by sharing it.
Do you even realize what this makes you? You don’t, because if you did you would stop.
It makes you a goddamn Paragon of Hypocrisy, that’s what it makes you.
As fitness professionals, we have clients come to us at all levels. Some are athletes. Others have never set foot inside a gym. And I have watched many of you work. I’ve seen you meet clients at their level. Give them small things to build habits.
I’ve seen you counsel them when they mess up. I HAVE SEEN YOU TELL THEM IT’S OKAY TO FAIL.
Because it is.
With at least as much ardor as you share “fail” videos, I have seen you share countless platitudes on your Facebook pages. Platitudes and maxims and quotes beyond counting, meant to inspire or to encourage.
Many of them make the point that failure is okay—because in order to fail at something, you have to try, and the trying is the most important part, because 90% of people can’t even bring themselves to do that.
You congratulate them for the trying, even when it brings with it the failing. You do this because you are a compassionate coach and a decent human being.
The espoused sentiment is one I think we can all get behind, but which is inexplicably missing when people start sharing fail videos.
Where now is the compassion? Where now is the encouragement? Where now is the borrowed wisdom, pirate from the lips of others and regurgitated in your Facebook status?
Reserved, perhaps, for your own clients? For those who choose YOU as the one to help them? Is failure okay only for people whose dollars are destined for your coffers?
You’re better than that.
Because the fact is, like all hypocrites, trainers like the ones I’m describing probably don’t realize what they’re doing. They don’t even realize that they’re being bullies.
That, now, has ended. The shroud of ignorance, I hesitate to believe, has been pierced with reason. No more plausibly deniability. They know. They’ve been told.
I want you to truly consider the people in question (who, I have to assume, eventually see themselves in these videos): they’re people. They have feelings. And they really don’t know any better.
Certainly, they don’t have the skills and insights we do.
And because we have these skills and insights, I am flabbergasted that so many of us choose to ignore the responsibilities of our station.
Now, I know we’re not doctors. We don’t have 6-8 years of mandatory education after which we have to take an oath to use this knowledge in a specific way: “do no harm.”
Still, I have always thought that, collectively, every fitness professional had decided take up a mission with it’s own goal and unspoken maxim: seek always to help.
How does mockery help? How does it add to the conversation? How does making people feel inferior serve this industry in any way?
It does not.
As a concession, or at the very least an acknowledgement of the opposition, I should touch on the argument that sharing “fail” videos has one potential benefit: if keeps those not yet indoctrinated from drinking the Kool-aid. The logic is, “if I post/share these videos, it will prevent people from joining CrossFit.”
I find myself somewhat at odds with that perspective. It’s not that I don’t see the potential validity; it’s that I think there are better ways to do it. That notwithstanding, we can’t really gauge how effective it is or could be.
Perhaps most importantly, we have no way of knowing whether such actions prevent people from gravitating towards CrossFit…or whether it keeps them from exercising altogether.
Which is to say that if you want to opine about CrossFit, I can see no reason not to. I just think that making fun of people, particularly those who are trying to get fit, is counter-productive. Not to mention mean.
So if you want to take CrossFit to task, would it not be be better to direct your ire where it belongs? Can you not seek out the coaches who let clients do these things, rather than make fun of the people whose safety is in jeopardy?
Remember always that every single individual who musters the courage to walk into any gym does so because they are seeking help. In the case of these videos, clients wound up at the doorstep of coaches who (evidence would suggest) are not really qualified to help them. That is not the fault of the client.
They do not deserve your scorn. They deserve your sympathy. They deserve your help.
You know who’d help them? Captain America. He’d stop in the middle of his workout and say, “Whoa, there, soldier! A few hundred more reps like that and you’ll need Super Solider serum just to get out of bed. Mind if I take a second to correct a hitch in your clean?”
And then the person would be like, “HOLY SHIT YOU’RE CAPTAIN AMERICA! Is it true that the serum gave unfathomable sexual endurance and perfect form on every exercise!?”
To which Cap would say, “The sex thing is true, but it took hard work and dedication to achieve exercise mastery, soldier. You may not be able to fuck like a super soldier, but you can lift like one! I’ll show you how.”
Then we—errr, they—would execute a high five, and the person would be like “gee whiz, Cap! That would be swell. Coach away!”
AND EVERYONE WOULD BE HAPPY.
Less miserable, at any rate.
My point here is not to defend CrossFit. I have a number of issues with CrossFit, not least of which is that they put themselves in a position to be mocked by documenting every single rep and posting videos all over the place. I just think that being mean doesn’t solve anything.
Just to finish the issue with as much balance as possibly, and get my thoughts down as coherently as possible, I’ll be posting another piece about CrossFit
tomorrow as soon as I finish it. It’ll be taking a closer look at what I think is great about CrossFit, as well as what’s wrong with it. As if either you or CrossFit really gave a shit.
With regard to this specific the bullying, however: now that I’ve said my piece, and spit the gristle from my teeth, I can stop thinking about this. I’m one of those people that can compartmentalize really well, and in all likelihood I won’t think about this much after this post.
So as a parting message with the ring of finality: maybe what I’m saying is that perhaps we should all try to be a little bit more like Captain America, and a little bit less like raging Internet douches.
Or, whatever, don’t.