Captain America is a Better Coach than You Because You’re a Bully, a Hypocrite, and (Probably) an Asshole

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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!”


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.

“Douchebaggery is for Nazis.”

Or, whatever, don’t.

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

Comments for This Entry

  • Kayleigh Herbertson

    I think the people who see the videos they feature in would disagree. I'm just starting out with exercising and I know that if an embarrassing video of me screwing up went online I'd be devastated. Would start working out privately, if at all. Confidence=shattered, self esteem=destroyed, desire to actually learn to do these things properly=gone.

    September 1, 2014 at 11:10 am

  • Swol Headquarters

    anyone should know that bullying is wrong. In some RARE cases it makes the victim a better person, but in most it turns them into a bully themselves. anyway, could you all check out my site:

    August 24, 2014 at 6:06 am

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    August 21, 2014 at 4:03 pm

  • Bill Marcellino

    Bullying involves power disparities: someone with institutional power (like a cop or a teacher), someone with physical power, etc. engaged in systematic abuse of their power through aggression (or the threat of aggression). You're talking about conflict and disagreement. Some of it is inappropriate, means-spirited, and objectionable. But it's not bullying.

    August 17, 2014 at 6:17 pm

  • Christina Martin

    Finallysomeone speaking out! Went Roman-less for quite a while and am SO glad I popped back in! CrossFit goes against everything I believe in, but 'fail' videos where people get hurt are just not funny at all! C'mon, you all know how you can hurt for MONTHS after a little accident, how some simple inuries cause pain for years, or how a busted knee can influence your whole life. Where is the compassion?! Pie in the face is one thing - but these kind of training (or dancing, skiing etc) accident are the moment where prolonged suffering starts, and shame on you for sharing and laughing. That's as bad as finding dog fights enjoyable.

    July 6, 2014 at 2:23 am

  • David Martin

    Nice post man, good and inspiring, fr the last few days I keep asking myself "what would the cap say??"

    June 24, 2014 at 8:25 pm

  • Kristin J

    This is a great article! I've also noticed the climb in Crossfit shaming articles/videos being shared on social media. I hadn't thought of it as bullying, but now I can see why. Why are we hating on a workout that is getting people up and active? I don't like doing Zumba. Am I going to tell the world how awful Zumba is? Absolutely not. Active people get injured. People get injured running, weightlifting, playing basketball, and doing Crossfit. The sad thing is that most people I've personally seen sharing negative things about Crossfit are people who are not active and who are just trying to defend their exercise of choice.

    June 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm

  • popculturez13

    June 10, 2014 at 9:48 pm

  • Shane Mclean

    It's easy to kick someone/something when it's down. Much harder to offer a hand up. Nice post mate, i agree with everything.

    June 7, 2014 at 6:19 pm

  • Rachel

    I've seen these videos (link emailed to me by a CrossFitter friend). It seems like some of the footage was not filmed in boxes. Regardless of the source, I lump this stuff in the same category as other junk on youtube such as "gym fails", etc. The fundamental problem in most of these cases is lousy coaching. I agree--It isn't fair to poke fun at these people who are probably doing what they were taught. Even my Xfit friend who trains at a decent box had never heard of a sumo deadlift. I have seen some horrific stuff go on at my former globo gym due to inept trainers. I've only been lifting for a little over a year, and if I notice this stuff (trainees with rounded backs during RDLs while the trainer stares off into space), I can only imagine what others with more experience see.

    June 6, 2014 at 4:51 pm

  • Ben Hardy

    Very good article. I think it's human nature to WANT to think that we have somehow stumbled upon 'the best' method of training. The alternative - that we are performing sub-par routines and wasting our time - causes some kind of cognitive dissonance in most people. An extension of thinking that we must of course be doing the best program can lead to thinking that all other programs are most likely inferior. Realizing that this is completely untrue is mature thinking. Holding the notion that we are using the best method and that other methods are invalid is immature thinking - taking it a step further and mocking people based on this notion is douche-baggery. Lots of people hate on crossfit. Hell I even have an overweight friend who doesn't exercise at all who hates on crossfit and then spits out the science about progressive training. But anyone who has been doing crossfit for a few months looks a hell of a lot better than the couch-surfing haters out there. Sure it's probably not 'the best' program for everyone but here is one strength of crossfit that is often overlooked. It's GROUP fitness. Not everyone is into stepping into the gym alone and doing their sets with their headphones in. Speaking from experience I had much more fun when I walked into a crossfit class, everyone knew my name, said hi and at the end of the workout when my lungs were on fire and my muscles were aching the people around me knew what was up. It's got a lot of people into fitness where the sterile, machine filled, 'eyes forward, no talking' atmosphere of regular gyms has failed. Plus some of those crossfit chicks are sexy as f**k. I really don't see why anyone is complaining.

    June 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm

  • Zeejet

    A very mature, thoughtful, and professional treatment of XFit-hate. While I agree with your assessment that we should not bully, we should criticize constructively at every opportunity (no one gets better without criticism...the key word being "constructive" however). My issue has never been with the newbies in XFit, it's the moderately proficient X-Fitters who somehow think their method is the end-all be-all of fitness and defend it religiously that get under my skin. Many of them are stubbornly ignorant. Bullying is no use against either case and there needs to be a better way to reach these people.

    May 31, 2014 at 10:37 am

  • Tom Nikkola

    Really well said! I'd also add that for any of us fitness professionals, if we could go back and look at the way we trained our clients at the beginning of our careers, we'd have to mock ourselves for poor form we allowed (or didn't recognize) or the lousy programs we created compared to what we know today. If experienced trainers would have shunned us at the start of our careers, we might never have gained the experience and changed the lives that we've been able to. In other words, only he (or she) who is without sin should cast stones.

    May 30, 2014 at 8:41 pm

  • Yannick Noah

    Hello sir. I agree. I, personally do not do crossfit myself. However, I do not get this mentality where we think we are better than everyone. Perhaps it also stems from insecurity. After all, crossfitters doing muscle ups, high rep snatches and sled pushes do look badass. I guess this insecurity of not being badass enough brings them to such a low level, where instead of praising them for the effort that they are doing, they choose to focus on the flaws no matter how small it is. Anyway, I really enjoyed this article. I love how you could make 3000+ word articles so enjoyable to read. I mean, I could almost hear you narrating this whole article haha. Thank you for this article sir. This is the first thing I read this morning, and it sure is a great way to start my day. :)

    May 31, 2014 at 12:35 am

  • Ryan Saplan

    Such a great article. Very well said. I'm really pro crossfit and I see the good and the bad. Lately I've been posting one negative piece of media for one positive piece of media about crossfit. It's so easy to jump on the bully bandwagon. I'm guilty of being a bully. A very good read Roman!

    May 30, 2014 at 7:49 pm

  • Timothy Barber

    Absolutely superb article. The first step, which is both the most difficult and the most crucial, is just to get started. Any action, no matter how small, to make that first step more difficult or less appealing is a detriment to the fitness industry at large, but more importantly to the health and betterment of everyone. I am not a professional fitness trainer, but I've felt the same way about these videos for awhile. Similar things are being said about institutions like Planet Fitness and even several other training methodologies (which may or may not have more validity as a program than CrossFit does) and I've personally seen that drive people away from taking that first step. It's slamming the door on someone who can be helped, just when they've worked up the courage to knock. Anyway... thanks for using your platform to spread inclusiveness and encouragement. It's in large part why I follow what you write. Better, it's why I'm comfortable following your programs.

    May 30, 2014 at 11:30 pm

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