How Are You Being A Bad Ambassador For Your Sport?

I was enjoying this interview with Johnny B. Truant, when a particular statement made me gasp in disgust. Talking about people who complain about their fitness level, but aren’t working to change it, he remarked that “you’re fat because you choose to be fat.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When did that kind of condescention become acceptable?

Now, I don’t mean to single poor Johnny out. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in the fitness community for years and, to a degree, he’s correct. It takes real, difficult work to transform your body, and some people just refuse to put it in.

For reference, this entire discussion absolutely excludes those individuals with real, serious medical or genetic conditions which prevent weight loss, or make it otherwise inadvisable. Some people try very hard to get fit and lose weight with little to no success due to pre-existing conditions. If you’re in this group, ignore everyone else. Your perseverence makes you a success in my book.

So, if he’s right, why am I so appalled?

I’m appalled because here we have a prominent voice in the online world – a guy whose entire job revolves around converting people to his way of thinking – making a statement that actively damages the perception of the fitness community. But it’s slightly more than that.

Are you the shepherd of your flock, or are you a wolf?

As fitness professionals, and even casual participants, our goal is to bring as many people as possible into the fold. You can’t accomplish that with damaging, hurtful, exclusionary statements like the one above.

For the not-yet-fit, fitness can seem an impenetrable fortress – large, imposing, and designed to keep people out. It’s your job to help break down those walls and help those who want to cross into fitness.

Sure, when it comes to conversion, there are some people you’ll never reach.

Ignore them.

Instead, focus on the ones you can reach. Focus on the people who want to be fit, but are scared or don’t know how to begin.

Imagine the following exchange (based on real exchanges I’ve had):

You: You’re in such good shape. I wish I could be in better shape.

Me: You could be! I can take you through some run-walks if you’d like. Show you how to get started.

You: Oh, no! I can’t run. (Or, I don’t like running. Or, I don’t know how to run)

If the next thing I say is, “Fine, but remember, you’re fat because you’re choosing to be,” what is the likely outcome of that exchange?

If I’m lucky, you might just walk away. If I’m not, you’ll have some choice four-letter words for me before you do. And, in either case, I’ve lost a chance to bring you into the fold.

What if, instead, I’d said something like, “Why do you feel like you can’t run?” It shows that I care, and that I’m interested in seeing you succeed. Most importantly, it leaves the dialog open, giving you a little more time to slip through the fortress gate.


Like it or not, you are your sport’s ambassador. The things you do and say can either make people feel welcome, or drive them away.

Have you ever dealt with someone who made you feel unwelcome in their sport? Have you ever had someone drive you away from something you wanted, but didn’t know how to get? If you’ve dealt with these personalities before, you know how damaging it can be.

Well, folks, change starts here! Take this post and share it, tweet it, digg it. Spread the word that it’s time to be better ambassadors.

Remember, change starts with you.

  2 Responses to How Are You Being A Bad Ambassador For Your Sport?
  1. Hey Tim,

    I’m really glad you are enjoying our podcast, and it’s great to hear your thoughts on this particular interview that I did with JBT. I have to say that this particular comment has actually stuck with me as well, although in a much different way.

    I think it’s vitally important to view statements like these in the correct context. Johnny was talking about (or getting ready to talk about, I can’t recall) his project called The Badass Project. It highlights amazing accomplishments by those with major physical “disabilities” who have refused to be stopped by them.

    JBT has been inspired by his interactions with these folks, and it’s really steeled his opinions that we should have NO EXCUSES for not getting fit. It was in that context that he said that those who are fat, choose to be fat.

    You know what, I agree with him. I’m not much of a runner myself, but I’ve been prying myself out of bed each morning, before dawn and in freezing temperatures to run as I prepare to set a personal best in an upcoming 5K. I tell myself each time that if I don’t get up, I’m choosing to be lazy, I’m choosing to be fat, and I’m choosing to miss my goals.

    Aside from the medical exclusions made in the interview, it really is our own choice whether we will be fit or fat, devoted or detached from our marriages, and successful in most areas of life in which we have some control.

    By the way, I would never say this to someone looking for advice like in your example. I *would* say it to someone I cared about, though, if they were simply making excuses and not using their God-given abilities to succeed.

    I love this discussion!


    • Tim Woodbury

      Hey Dustin,

      That remark notwithstanding, I think it was a great episode. I would encourage everyone reading this to check it out (after they’re done here, of course ;) ).

      I totally understand the impulse behind the comment, particularly in the context of The Badass Project. It’s hard to watch people make excuses about their health! Doubly so when you know they’re capable of better.

      If you really want to help others, you have to put aside your disappointment in their choices and work to help them make better ones in the future. Lead by example and hope that they follow.

      I’d even go so far as to say “I’m choosing to be fat” can be a helpful personal mantra (I say as I stand here breaking my diet – hope my wife’s not reading). I even think the same sentiment can be applied to others, but it has to be reframed. For instance, “You have to choose to be fit.” Same idea, positive spin.

      Thanks for engaging on this. I’m really enjoying this debate.

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