Make OCR Great Again
A recent rule change by the Spartan Race dictates that any athlete, standing on podium, must wear Spartan Race t-shirt, regardless of their affiliation, or forego prize money. All racers must also wear a Spartan Race headband. Or else.
Ahhh…. how very… Trumpian.
The Spartan Race seems to be living and breathing the values that the United States of America has been pushing lately.
It started with #ShirtGate
Remember 2015 Atlanta Spartan Sprint and the hashtag #shirtgate?
A female racer was asked to change out of her BattleFrog series shirt before taking the podium. “It’s an official rule”, she was told.
The official rule part was a little fishy… If the rule was indeed official, it was about as widely publicized and accessible as the demolition plans from the Hitchhiker’s Guide: “on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”.
At the same time, Ryan Atkins and Cassidy Watson were both waving large cheques in the air, while standing on podium at the Spartan Cruise , while wearing shirts from competitor race companies.
Back then, Colby Connell, the VP of Marketing for Spartan Race, chimed in: “There was never an official rule about racers’ apparel. This was a miscommunication from the race announcer – we run many events, and things like that, while unfortunate, are bound to happen”.
She goes on to say: “We are supportive of all competition in the industry, as it helps to further promote our sport. We may be selective in what images we feature on social media, however, competitors can wear whatever they want – during the race, and on podium”.
Well… that was during the Obama administration.
There IS now an official rule.
Well, as official as it gets, I guess – it is written in a pdf file online somewhere.
What’s this? Issue an executive order, then backtrack once the full ramifications become apparent?
“He gets an idea and he says ‘just do it,’ It’s very difficult to say no to him. . . . He has broad ideas – sometime good ideas – and people just do what he says”.
The executive “process” described above is familiar to every single Spartan employee. Except the above statement was uttered by Barbara Res, an executive who spent almost two decades working for Donald Trump.
Speaking of Spartan employees, have you ever heard about Glassdoor? It’s a website where employees can anonymously review companies and their management. Two dozen unique individuals describe themselves as overworked and underpaid, the working environment as political, and toxic, and the leadership as selfish, careless, and playing favorites. This seems like a jarring disconnect for a company that is “committed to making the world a better place”.
In a true Trumpian spirit, the Spartan rules were quietly softened on January 27th. The “clarification” (aka backpedalling) suggested that the headband had to ONLY be worn at the start of the race, and the shirt was to be worn ONLY for the initial photography.
Oh, phew. I was starting to think that Spartan Race went all protectionist and isolationist on us.
Nascar Drivers and Alternative Facts
Few of the Spartan staff were quick to jump in. They emphasized 1. growing the sport and 2. upholding the sport standards, as the two driving forces behind the new rules.
As in: corporate sponsors pay Spartan a lot of money, that it needs to market its events, and grow the sport, and they need a guarantee that they will be represented on podium.
And as in: race officials need an easy way to identify those skipping their burpees after the dreaded spear throw, and what better way to do that, than have each athlete sport a mandatory head band with their race number?
Mmmm… This strikes me as the Spartan Race version of “alternative facts”.
I mean… The most recent Spartan finisher shirts do not even have corporate sponsor branding on them.
This is a Spartan move, not a Reebok move. A move that seems to come from the scarcity mindset, the belief that there is only so much pie for everyone.
Is there any doubt in your mind as to who the corporate sponsors are here?
But wait, no big deal. Consider the race car drivers, they are sponsored by multiple companies, right? This example was brought up by a number of folks. So, wear the mandated shirt, like the good little Spartan that you are, and just slap your other sponsors’ logos on top of the Spartan t-shirt! Voila!
Yes, a Nascar driver can be sponsored by anyone from McDonalds to Good Tire. If the race itself is sponsored by Bridgestone, then you will often see the race officials slapping the Bridgestone hats onto racers as they get on podium. Not the other way around.
Not – “here’s a shirt you must wear”, as the car driver is scrambling to get out of his t-shirt and into another t-shirt before he takes podium. [I would not mind witnessing this, of course].
Oh, and bring your sponsors’ logos with you. So, you can smoothly and efficiently put them on your finisher t-shirt before you take podium. Maybe bring a sewing kit too.
You don’t “grow the sport” from within ONE race series. Just like you don’t promote liberty and freedom by building a fucking wall.
That’s called “growing the business”, not growing the sport – totally fine, but don’t tell me the sky isn’t blue.
As for upholding the sport standards – way to tap into the pre-existing community wrath here. Yet… I call red herring. [*If you are rusty on logical fallacies, “red herring” is something “smelly” that misleads or distracts from the actual issue at hand].
Perhaps, the most accurate statement in this entire discussion was uttered by Kevin Donoghue (hi, Kev!):
“It’s corporate America, and that’s how it works”.
That it is. And that it does.
Gorilla In The Backyard And Brand Identity
I used to work for BlackBerry back when the Blackberries were cool. The company was called Research In Motion (RIM) then, and their main campus was located across the parking lot from my alma mater – University of Waterloo. RIM hired thousands of people, and hundreds of university students. They were the gorilla in the university’s backyard.
What is the gorilla doing in your backyard?
Whatever the fuck it wants!
I have applauded Spartan Race elsewhere on their consistent brand.
As any good symbol-intensive brand, they maintain a relationship with their clients that goes above and beyond usual “brand loyalty”. Similarly, Spartans are fans, champions, and the evangelists of the brand. They get Spartan tattoos, and dress their babies in Spartan gear.
How many Joe Schmoes (myself included) have worn their Spartan t-shirts to another obstacle race, to their CrossFit gym, to the grocery store? Hell, I wore a Spartan shirt while reviewing ANOTHER race for a magazine (purely by accident, and yes, not my finest moment).
Obstacle racing in general, and Spartan Race in particular, seem to attract a particular type of rebel. Yet, it is exactly this type of rebel who does not do well with being told what to wear and when. Limiting the racers’ freedom is the wrong move. It’s a move away from culture. The very culture that started it all.
When everyone is welcome to the party, everyone promotes that party.
United States of America is one country out of 196. Yes, it’s a large country. Yes, it is a world leader. Yet it is still a country embedded in the world community of other countries.
Just like Spartan Race is an obstacle race series embedded in the world of obstacle racing – other race companies, apparel companies, athletes, media outlets.
And being exclusionary rarely ends up in long-term growth of… well, anything.
There were plenty of rules before. You are not allowed hiking poles. You are required to have a headlamp if you are participating in an Ultra Beast. You are not allowed to skirt the course, or take off your hydration pack for obstacles.
Yet all those rules have been sport-specific.
This rule has nothing to do with the sport. It’s a business rule. A business decision. And it’s a decision that does not develop that business in the community that it is embedded in, but rather isolates it from that very community.
This is an isolationist* decision that is moving the sport backwards.
Meanwhile, Adrian Bijanada is offering a free race entry to anyone who saves a puppy**.
And Justin Trudeau is hugging pandas.
I shared a fantastic article recently, written by Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb. He talks about how important it is to preserve the company’s culture.
Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion. […] The culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation. If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products.
“WE First” is a dangerous modus operandi in the global world that more than ever needs us to collaborate. As Justin Trudeau recently tweeted: “diversity IS our strength”.
Dear Spartan Race, you have something great here.
Don’t fuck up the culture.
* Isolationism is the foreign policy position that a nation’s interests is best served by keeping the affairs of other countries at a distance. This approach aims to make one’s economy entirely self-reliant, and to devote all efforts to its own advancement.
** That post by Adrian is long gone, although you should still go and save a puppy. Unless you do not believe in saving puppies. Or, perhaps, you only believe in saving puppies of certain breed?