This is the article in which I will make the most extensive use of anonymity and pseudonyms. No federation will be named. I wish to offer a set of conceptual items for thought and discussion.
Peter wrote to me and said he expected an article from me about the disgusting issues from this weekend. Charley asked me if I couldn’t write a news story about it at Powerlifting Watch: no, I can’t and I won’t. I have some discretionary power to choose what is news, but just some. I use that to choose not to write about it. Roger and Tracy insisted that I contributed my opinion on two of the digital threads and I explained to them why I thought it best not to. That said, let’s move on to the facts.
If this weekend hadn’t been real, it would be bad fiction. I was teaching Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was “Grip training” and Sunday was “Periodization”.
“Therefore, guys, after the 2003 research by Young revealed that the modern anatomical and biomechanical features that make the human grip unique were present before the artifacts, the idea of a Man being humanized by labor was substituted by a Man whose full humanity, whatever you may call it, derives from his ability to attack and kill. Homo habilis gave rise to Homo belicus.”
At that moment, the events that were to set the stage for another war over the principles and procedures of powerlifting was happening.
The following day, as I told my students “… so, periodization is the result of programming decisions based on the inexorable fact that many phenomena underlying what we manipulate happen in time according to a shorter or longer supercompensation curve”, a crowd was demanding in the internet CHANGE NOW.
Seriously, someone cooked that for me.
Leaving the Poltergeist aside, I will start with some decisions I’ve made concerning these recurring battles on a (I will argue in this respect) neverending war:
- I will not belittle the people that violently bash or attack an obvious bad lift. I may not condone their choice of action, but I not only understand what drove them to do it, but I respect and I am sorry for how much suffering it represents. Ridiculing peoples’ outrage is not only rude: it is a form of inter-personal violence called invalidation.
- I will not, on the other hand, ignore quasi-pathological psychological phenomena that drive people to engage in such stressful digital (I’ve seen personal, in the past) battles
- I will not point fingers to one or another organization.
- I will try to extract patterns and outcomes and move from there to possible guidelines for action that will optimize individual wellbeing
- I will loosely align a few arguments that might suggest forms of reacting that may optimize the trend towards better standards in the sport of powerlifting, assuming these standards are a result of a small number of consensuses and do not derive from Nature
The nature of the Beast
- The multi-organizational structure of powerlifting and its consequences
Whether one likes it or not, Powerlifting is one of the modern (post-modern, if you want) non-Olympic sports that are organized around several federations. It is possibly the one with the largest number of international sanctioning bodies. It is futile to discuss whether this is good or bad. It is like arguing whether globablization or death are good or bad. They are facts, period.
That said, lifters will fill the federations according to many criteria. Most of these organizations don’t require exclusive membership, but many require some membership. In the USA, it is a combination of the practicality of having meets close to where one lives, a rough assessment of whether the federation’s principles and procedures are in accordance with one’s “deep held beliefs” (and how deep is a matter for debate) and personal connections. In other countries, where delinquent behavior is there for anyone with some experience to see, and where the powerlifting community is much smaller, so that there are never meets close to home, the choice is mostly based on affinity.
All the bad lifting videos that outrage people come from meets that are held by federations previously known to adopt a very flexible understanding of a few consensual rules of the sport, such as squat depth, chest stop on the bench press, full lockout on the deadlift, etc., plus using uncalibrated equipment, which is a big issue.
The lift that most outraged everyone this weekend came from the platforms of one of these organizations. Every time they promote another meet with uncalibrated equipment, uncertified judges, “self-service” lifting (as opposed to the round system), etc., a bad lift video will flood the internet. Some of them will nominally be “all time records”. That makes many ethical lifters outraged.
Remember: “all time records” and “world rankings” are calculated by an organization that offers information service (Powerlifting Watch). It does not judge. It does not establish standards. It is a service provider that has been considered useful to the community. It is NOT a power structure. Demanding from it more than an ecumenical and neutral service is akin to creating another power structure, like a “Powerlifting Committee”. This is dangerous and contradictory in every sense, not the least being the need to “re-judge” lifts previously judged on the platform, institutionalizing video-judging, among other things that, I assure you, will not happen.
The discussion about what are “all time records” in such a context and what they are useful for is another issue, that may be approach at another time.
- “Changing powerlifting” – a futile political agenda
Clive has claimed that his attacks, combined with other influencers’ attacks, on bad lifting videos, on federations that are known to disrespect consensual standards (by using uncalibrated equipment, uncertified judges, etc) and on individual leaders or lifters has promoted positive changes in the sport. Namely, that records were overruled, that bad lifts were “unpassed”, etc. Clive claims that with enough virulent attacks the “light side of the Force” will win over the Siths.
No, it will not. Celebrating the fact that PLW did not accept one or another lift as all time records is ok, but we can’t inflate it to the level of a “victory against Evil”. It is not. More bad lifts will happen. Some will not be accepted. Others will. Why? Because it is not PLW’s mission to straighten the sport, but to provide useful information, chiefly the records and the rankings. It doesn’t judge.
Nobody can “change powerlifting” individually or in small militias. The reason “flexible” federations exist is because lifters lift at their meets, period. The federation leaders are smart: they hold meets in places that make them the only option. Also, let’s not be hypocrites: a very large number of lifters is somewhat opportunist, turning a blind eye to inequities and silencing. While these lifters lift in “flexible” meets, there will be unacceptable videos driving ethical lifters insane.
The idea that enough verbal violence will reduce the number of federations to the two considered strict and ethical is a fantasy that I have a hard time to understand how anyone can entertain. Really, there is no need for a Symposium on the Structure of Powerlifting to conclude such a change simply will not happen because the social agents that would actually make this change (the lifters) are not invested with this interest.
So, should we just retreat into depression and accept our sport will be trashed? I offer another alternative: if everybody agrees there are islands of excellence in the sport, let us metaphorically live there and, as to the rest, ignore it. See the item bellow about suggested actions concerning bad lifting videos.
- The personal need for accolades and acclaim
I don’t have the educational background to explain why people need to obtain acclaim from false achievements in a micro-environment, thus, becoming micro-celebrities. However, certain operations that take place in the minds of a large number of people leads to that.
Arguing with reason has zero effect on the phenomenon. Arguing with moralistic claims is even worse.
We need to come to terms with the fact that whatever social reasons there are for this phenomenon to take place, they will not change. Not in our lifetimes, at least.
Despising these people, elaborating on their ego-trips is a waste of valuable time. They exist and they feed “flexible” federations. Period.
- Living with criticism, “booing” and passion in sports
Arnold pointed out that many focal battles happened because powerlifters have a hard time dealing with harsh criticism. Athletes from other sports face much more aggressive reaction from fans, from the press, from everywhere, and life goes on. I agree: everyone needs to understand that being an athlete (or a doctor, or a writer) implies exposing your work. For several reasons, even if it is excellent, it will be attacked by someone or many people.
My concern is with the attackers, meaning you. Knowing that the hostilities in professional sports are actually encouraged and artificially produced by marketing departments should show you that someone else is benefitting from your anger. It’s up to you to allow this to happen.
One of the worst things for marketers and for people who derive high and pleasure from irrational exchange of insult is a rational, cold and well structured criticism.
How about shifting to that, if you really can’t avoid expressing your criticism?
- The emotional relation with the sport and the impulse to protect it
For some of us, powerlifting is not “just a hobby”. For most of my friends, it is. Hobbies are very important in our lives. Everyone needs something with significance and meaning besides their occupation (the activity or activities that provide regular income). But the angriest reactions to bad lifting come from those to whom powerlifting means something rooted deep inside the soul. This is why, in the beginning, I said I would not belittle angry reactions towards bad lifting. I would rather analyze and understand it in order to protect these people from the harmful consequences of anger, conflict and sustained stress.
Those for whom powerlifting means a lot will impulsively protect it once they feel it is under attack. The important issue here is to understand that this is an interpretation. Maybe powerlifting is not endangered at all. The bad lift is an insult for you, but the sport will go on and in about a week, it will be as if that lift never existed.
Bellow, I offer some suggestions on how to react to bad lifting videos.
How to best react to bad lifting videos while at the same time optimizing one’s sanity and the protection of “excellence niches” in the sport
- It is not personal – keep that in mind, always
Whenever coming across what you may feel as a disgusting bad lifting video, the first thing you must train yourself to think is that this is not about any person. It is derived from social phenomena way beyond your individual ability to intervene through a local action. That does not mean that a lifter who saw his own video after performing the lift, understood it was unacceptable and then posted it as something great is not responsible for a reproachable action. He is. The reasons that drove him to do that may go from not caring about standards at all, which shows that powerlifting is only about his self-esteem for him, to other harder to understand reasons, such as a willingness to confront people like you, or even an image distortion that makes him genuinely believe his lift was good.
That does not mean that the meet organizers and federation directors are not human beings capable of discerning right from wrong, either.
But the recurrent posting of bad lifting videos from meets that are held under flexible rules is not personal: it is a social phenomenon. Do not react to it personally, otherwise you will contribute to nothing, especially to your own sanity. So:
- Don’t point fingers
- Don’t name people: people have friends and family and these could be your allies. If you attack them, you will lose these people for the greater good
- The video was posted for publicity purposes – do not contribute to that end
Both the individual (for whatever reasons) who posted the video and the federation that holds meets with “flexible” rules and uncalibrated equipment need publicity and advertisement. Whatever the content of your text – whether praising or reproaching – you have contributed to their need by sharing the video. Ironically, you have provided free marketing for what you wish to ban from our sport. You help them by sharing the video. You also help them by creating a 100+ comment thread on that.
Think about it: this is not what you want. So how are you going to express your resentment and suffering with what you can only see as an attack to something you hold sacred? By ignoring it. Don’t click on the video (the system counts hits), don’t share, don’t mention it.
With a small group of close friends, do let your anger and resentment out. They will listen and probably feel the same way. With these friends, ridicule the lift until you feel your anger is gone and what you feel now is some type of indifference spiced with sprinkles of contempt.
- Post something else
One of the interesting things in such a multi-organizational sport is that there is a high probability of something really good having taken place at the same time as the video that drove you crazy. Post that. Call your friends and ask them to do the same. The effect will be that part of the community will deviate their attention from the bad lift to the good content you just shared. Of course, you can’t unsee something you have seen. But you just made it less important by competing for its relevance with some other content.
- Do NOT engage in social media controversy around that video
That goes back to the publicity issue. The federation you know not to be committed to the traditions of the sport you love so much is one of the highest beneficiaries of such threads. Is that what you want? No, it is not. Besides that, these threads have a common side effect which is to create conflict between people that is unrelated to the issue at stake. There is nothing good on them.
How are these controversies born? Usually, someone makes an angry statement and that provokes responses. However, technically, that was not a question. Why answer it? Face it as a “press release”, a personal declaration, whatever. In any instance, non of your business to react. Leave it alone.