Winter for me means a lot of training, but there isn't much to talk about in the way of races. However, an incident in December got me thinking about how people treat each other, and some of the common attitudes within the triathlon community, but also in society in general. Admittedly, I can't keep pace with Twitter, so this commentary would have been a lot more relevant three months ago, but sometimes it seems like the immediate and impulsive nature of social media doesn't really allow for deeper introspection. I hesitated for a long time before posting this because the story was no longer current, but as time went by, the themes stayed with me. I became more aware of my own tendency towards quick judgment, and I observed all around me the persistent habit of categorizing strangers as The Deserving or The Undeserving, usually based on completely arbitrary distinctions or inaccurate perceptions.
Here is what went down in December:
Danielle Dingman, a talented young athlete who is relatively new to triathlon, qualified for her pro license last season. Faced with typical financial barriers as an unsponsored rookie, she opted to launch a GoFundMe page where friends, family and perhaps even anonymous donors could help her pursue her dream of a career in triathlon racing.
Apparently, this rubbed some people the wrong way.
Brad Culp, a writer and former Editor in Chief for Triathlon Magazine, was quick to condemn this move with the sarcastic tweet "Go Fund Yourself." He pointed to prominent athletes whose early years were consumed by long hours devoted to (high wage) careers that ultimately enabled financial freedom without the help of a "handout." He further expanded on his rejection of Dingman in an article on the TRS website, and other pro athletes chimed in, affirming his stance.
There was a compelling element to Culp's argument, as he presented Dingman as a self-absorbed, dreamy millennial who hoped success would land in her lap. His stereotype appealed to the part of the psyche that says, "Yeah, you know what? I've had to make sacrifices. Why should you get anything for free?" By leaning on that American cliché of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps," he taps into the familiar tendency to indulge in moral superiority, looking down upon the lazy and undeserving. Indeed, I've observed that often when people debate, they seem more preoccupied with attempting to prove "how hard I've had to work," than they are with actually making a salient point. In some convoluted way, invoking hard work is universally expected to lend credibility to your opinions.