While our sport continues to foster healthy competition, it will not encourage bullying. Climbing will not condone anti-gay slurs, threats, and intimidation. There is an integrity within climbing that runs parallel to having integrity as an individual, and I implore my community to ask themselves to take a look at athletes we hold in high regards.
There is no other community in the world that I would rather play such a profound role in my life. My personal climbing network is filled with good people, unconditional love, and the understanding that we all grow parallel to this sport as it progresses. However, adult bullying happens more than we think, although the general consensus is that it rarely makes an appearance in the climbing community.
Recently, someone posted a photo of my climbing partner and I working on Gabriel, a 5.13c offwidth established in 2009 by semi-professional climber Pamela Pack. An innocent Facebook comment from an outsider joked, “I see a bolt, don’t try and tell me it’s trad!” Pack responded to this by texting me taunting remarks and threats. She made physical threats of violence against my partner and myself, as well as referred to the original commenter as a “faggot”.
This behavior is incredibly problematic because athlete sponsorships should be more than a hashtag on social media or how many “likes” one receives in support. Truthfully, they aren’t even necessarily about how hard one climbs or how many first ascents have been established. Ultimately, sponsorships are esteemed as a great honor because they, like climbing itself, are a gift given to those who have gained the trust and respect of the community. You can gain respect based on grades and ascents, and many do, but a person’s character should also be an integral part. Are we admiring sponsored athletes for who they are, rather than based on their accomplishments alone?
We may be long past our cafeteria days, but the playground bully doesn’t necessarily disappear once we leave the schoolyard. When I reminisce about my own childhood, I smile because it’s so simple, yet true: everything I need to know in life, I learned in kindergarten. The important things that come to mind: “Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Clean up your own mess. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody knows how or why, but we are all like that.”
And the most important of all is The Golden Rule. Think of what a better world we could all live in if we remembered to treat others as we want to be treated.
I don’t expect those at the forefront of climbing to be perfect; watch anybody closely for a period of time and you are bound to discover that they are far from it. My expectations aren’t impossibly high, but I believe in my own set of moral standards enough to hold people to similar standards as well. These standards apply to every human being in my life; they aren’t limited to climbers only. However, those who are sponsored have an unspoken obligation to be leaders whether they are tied into a rope or not; lead by example, or don’t lead at all.