It’s not about the sticker…but if it was, so what?”
Many within the running community are all a flutter over a recent op-ed piece by Chad Stafko in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. He leveled some fairly hefty criticism of runners. More specifically, he begins his discussion by questioning the rationale for displaying 13.1 and 26.2 stickers and stating that their sole purpose is to draw attention to the person displaying it. He goes on to offer additional critiques, seemingly positioning most runners as attention-seeking individuals eager to make sure the world knows just how hard they work. I’ve spent some time thinking about his claims, trying to be as objective as possible, and would like to offer my thoughts. You may agree, and you may not. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
First, a few initial reactions:
– When you are out driving, and you spot me running, you don’t know if I’ve been running for 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 miles, or 50 miles. More to the point, there are far easier ways to draw attention to myself than to run 50 miles.
– You may judge my body in it’s current state, but you don’t know my history, and haven’t lived my life. It’s human nature to make snap judgments based on our initial encounters with individuals. That doesn’t mean we need to extrapolate out a life history from that appearance and context.
– We post “family” stickers and don’t question them- why are you flaunting your reproduction and (typically) heteronormativity?
– We post religious icon stickers- why are you flaunting your God and/or beliefs?
– We add alma mater license plate covers- why are you flaunting your education?
– We add sports team decals and license plate covers- why don’t you behave like a “normal” fan and scream at the TV like everyone else?
– This is possibly the most expensive “t-shirt” I own…don’t critique my race shirt and I won’t critique your Armani Exchange shirt or sunglasses.
I don’t know if you are a runner or not, whether you have family members that run, and I don’t even know what you look like, whether or not you have body image issues, or if you have ever suffered from depression or addiction. However, you’ve no doubt gone through something significant in your life and found yourself looking for support, and searching for a coping mechanism. Is it so hard to fathom that perhaps some runners don’t actually care what others think?
We are indeed an individualistic society, and we have encouraged our most recent generation to expect instant praise and gratification for simply participating. There are blue ribbons for everyone, and no keeping score! This sense of individualism isn’t limited to running and athletics though. This individualism is directly linked to many other facets of our society. Heck, it’s the reason writers like yourself have jobs in the first place. You have the luxury of offering your opinion and sharing with on a global scale with others.
We may also be a culture obsessed with quick fixes. We want our education system to turn around in a year or we scrap the policy and elect someone else. We want the perfect job immediately after graduating from college. We EXPECT to go to college instead of viewing it as a privilege and an opportunity that many won’t get. Clearly, there are some entitlement issues in our society that need to be worked out. Perhaps a nice solitary run could help? Maybe we might all do some of our best thinking when we lace up a pair of shoes. It seems to work for presidents, heads of state, social justice leaders, prominent educators, outspoken activists, and countless everyday heroes we know nothing about. The last time I checked, Air Force One has never flaunted a 26.2 sticker, but perhaps those pictures were simply redacted.
We are also a society with a myriad of health and nutrition issues, which are clearly linked to economic, racial, and sexual identity concerns. Heck, we are well aware that we need to address the disparity in participation in organized running events of any kind. Right now, it’s middle and upper-class White folks buying those shoes, adding those stickers to their vehicles, and posting their post-race selfies. Running may not be the solution to those health and nutrition issues, but I’d venture to guess it’s doing more good than op-ed columns critiquing folks to make healthy lifestyle decisions.
So, nobody is questioning whether or not there are issues that need to be addressed. Nobody is questioning that our society, AS A WHOLE, has entitlement issues and continues to struggle in search of an individual and collective identity. However, in the grand scheme of things, the sport of running isn’t really worthy of the scorn you seem intent on bestowing upon it. There are a lot of really significant issues going on in the world, and right here at home that mainstream media outlets, like the Wall Street Journal, fail to report on daily. Perhaps you should be taking a harder look at those issues, and not worry so much about a group of people eager to celebrate healthy, positive accomplishments and milestones of human achievement they never thought themselves capable. There are folks in every group destined to attract undue attention to themselves, but for each of those obnoxious folks, there are 100 others out there running for the thrill, the joy of experiencing what the human body is capable of when you push it, the adrenaline that running provides, the release and reflection it provides. Furthermore, many of us are doing it long before your alarm goes off (don’t worry, we’ll stick to the sidewalks and wear lights), so you never have to see us on the street and wonder. And, in case you are wondering, I keep my sticker in my office. I don’t like adding adhesives to my car- it lowers the resale value and is impossible to remove 😉