“It’s no fun ‘til someone dies…” – Tool, Vicarious
Nobody died at last year’s Reebok CrossFit Games. If Dave Castro’s recent announcement is any indication, CrossFit HQ considers that a missed opportunity.
On the 4th of July, Captain Smug combed his mullet back and made the first event announcement for the 2016 Games: Murph. In the California summer heat, with weight vests. Because last year, when multiple athletes were carted off the field on stretchers, suffering from dehydration, heat stroke, and rhabdo, it wasn’t quite dangerous enough.
The Internet, predictably, went nuts. That cheeky Dave Castro, there he goes again! What a daring thing to do! How fitting to announce it on the 4th of July! This is going to be so much fun to watch!
First let me clear something up: It is in no way an appropriate or fitting thing to announce a workout on Independence Day, whether it’s the most popular Hero WOD or not. It’s called Independence Day, not Memorial Day or even Veterans Day. Last I checked, there’s not a WOD commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or Bunker Hill, or Yorktown. So announcing Murph on the 4th of July is no more clever or proper than if he’d done it on Christmas.
But there are more important reasons to be upset with Castro’s announcement.
The Sport of Putting Athletes at Risk
The field at last year’s Games after Murph more closely resembled a Casualty Collection Point than an elite fitness competition. People experienced actual, life-threatening medical emergencies as a result of reckless programming and brutal conditions.
This is not funny. It’s not cheeky. It’s not okay.
But of course, since CFHQ is essentially a professional Internet trolling agency, they’ve been lapping up the attention. They even gleefully posted video from the Fittest on Earth documentary showing last year’s carnage. Then they took to the comments section, arguing with the hundreds of people raising valid concerns over the safety of the athletes and presentation of the sport to the general public. And all the while, the comments, likes, and shares kept adding up.
The ever-increasing physical insanity presented by the competition programming at the CrossFit Games is bad for the sport, bad for athletes both professional and amateur, and bad for the fitness movement in general. The more dangerous the Games become, the more harm is done to every affiliate with the word “CrossFit” emblazoned on their sign.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
The arms race that is Games programming is in blatant denial or defiance of the responsibility an entity as powerful as CrossFit HQ. Because so many eyes are watching and taking what they do as an accepted standard, the moral and responsible thing to do would be to display measured leadership and intelligence. Instead, Castro ups the ante, and their social media team fans the flames.
As much as we try to insist that the CrossFit Games aren’t CrossFit, the Games are the face of CrossFit to the public. When people see elite athletes performing crazy feats of fitness, they are impressed, and maybe a little intimidated. When they see them failing, hurting themselves, and being carried away on stretchers, they’re scared shitless. A big reason affiliates all across the country are starting to drop the CrossFit name is that the image of CrossFit as a fitness regime is increasingly terrifying. Nobody wants to go to a gym where they perceive there’s a good chance of leaving in an ambulance.
“It can kill you,” he said. “I’ve always been completely honest about that.”
Greg Glassman, CrossFit Founder, New York Times
It is disingenuous for CrossFit to simultaneously insist that it is the fitness program for everybody, while its most prominent actions actively dissuade most of the general public from ever considering it.
But the fallout from the dangerous and reckless programming at the Games extends even to your local community. The accepted level of risk presented by the CrossFit Games influences local competition programming and risk tolerance. If the temperature and humidity spike the day of a local throw-down, how likely is the director to reschedule or move the competition indoors? The CrossFit Games would never do that.
CrossFit has demonstrated that athlete safety is not a concern to a competition director. After all, the athletes know that there are risks, so it’s really their fault. Caveat competitor and all that. Rory Mckernan went as far as to say that blaming the heat injuries suffered by athletes last year “is like blaming NASCAR for car accidents.”
Of course, anybody know knows anything about NASCAR can tell you that the analogy is as appropriate as it is unflattering. NASCAR has specifically engineered its races for the past couple decades to precipitate huge, dramatic accidents between multiple cars, and it thrives on the giant pile-up as a key part of its attraction as an entertainment product. So is Mckernan unwittingly saying that CrossFit will continue to place the lives of its athletes at risk for the entertainment value? Hmm.
The attitude and actions of CrossFit also demonstrate a lack of respect for the athletes competing. These are people who have staked their whole lives and careers on the sport, and their effort has allowed CrossFit to offer up increasingly lucrative purses to Games winners and podium finishers. This has placed the top-tier athletes in a position where they almost can’t say no, no matter what sort of physical dangers are presented in the name of topping last year’s show.
This Is Why They Hate Us
If you’re wondering why people hate CrossFit, look no further than the way CFHQ presents itself and its sport to the world. When a journalist publishes another article about how dangerous CrossFit is, or an industry professional rails about what a disaster it is as a fitness program, or when your doctor looks at you sideways when you mention you do it, this is exactly why.
Am I calling for a boycott? No. Maybe. The CrossFit community, quite apart from the corporate entity, prides itself on being a positive agent of change. At some point, that change will need to occur within the sport itself. Preferably, we reach that point before an athlete dies on live, national television.
There is one parallel afforded the July 4th announcement. When the American Colonials petitioned King George III for redress of their grievances, their concerns were ignored and they were slapped with further sanctions. In response, the colonies became united as States, declared their independence, and fought a war to separate themselves from the tyranny and deaf ear of their oppressors. If the rank and file CrossFit athletes and fans who are making their voice heard continue to be ignored, there won’t be a war, but they will declare their independence from King Glassman and his court jester Castro just the same.
For my part, as CrossFit has become more and more irresponsible with the use of the power of their position, and as their product has become less compelling as an example of fitness to which each of us should strive, I find myself less and less likely to watch it. What you do in response to CrossFit’s actions is up to you. But I have more constructive ways to use my time than watching this year’s edition of Survivor: CrossFit Island.
Teaser photo courtesy of CrossFit Games.