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Risky Business

November 20th, 2014

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It’s safe to say even extreme activities seem more dangerous these days. Many would argue it’s in the human DNA to want to go higher, farther, faster.

Back in the day Evel Knievel was the big rebel. But these days there’s more publicity surrounding everything from cliff diving to ice climbing, wingsuit flying, downhill skateboarding, big wave surfing,  highlining , BASE jumping, walking on a  tightrope between skyscrapers  without a safety net, and  skydiving from the edge of space .

These activities come with jaw-dropping accomplishments, but sometimes also injury … and even death.

So how risky is too risky? 

And when companies sponsor athletes who push the boundaries are the sponsors celebrating the human spirit? Or are they encouraging dangerous behavior, especially as some of these sports become a little more mainstream?

That’s a question being debated this week as the popular energy bar company, Clif Bar , severed its ties with five of the world’s most famous rock climbers it was sponsoring. Clif Bar features a rock climber on its wrapper.

Clif Bar  issued a statement over the weekend saying,  “We have and always will support athletes in many adventure-based sports, including climbing.  And inherent in the idea of adventure is risk.  We appreciate that assessing risk is a very personal decision.  This isn’t about drawing a line for the sport or limiting athletes from pursuing their passions. We’re drawing a line for ourselves.  We understand that this is a grey area, but we felt a need to start somewhere and start now.”

The most famous athlete Clif Bar cut is arguably Alex Honnold . He’s the world’s most famous free soloist. That means he climbs mountains, often thousands of feet up with nothing but his shoes and a chalk bag. There’s no room for error — not one slip, loose rock, big gust of wind, or case of nervous jitters. He’s done thousands of these climbs.

Here is a feature on Honnold from a few years ago on 60 Minutes .

Honnold wrote in an Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times : “The fact that the adventures that we seek out are dangerous is part of what makes them interesting to the public and our sponsors.”

And while it would be expedient to dismiss him as crazy for what he does, Alex Honnold seems to do it because he feels it’s his calling, he understands the risks … and he did it long before anyone came around to sponsor him.

He continued in the piece, “I know that when I’m standing alone below a thousand-foot wall, looking up and considering a climb, my sponsors are the furthest thing from my mind. If I’m going to take risks, they are going to be for myself — not for any company.”

While mothers around the country may have breathed a sigh of relief upon learning about Clif Bar’s decision (sigh), Clif Bar came under some heavy criticism, including on social media. One comment on Facebook read: “Clif Bar, you do not make rope, carabiners, harnesses, or helmets. You make food. If someone injures or kills themselves nobody [is] going to question what they had for lunch.”

And while many people have opinions, the controversy gets more complex.

Clif Bar’s decision to fire these athletes came right in the middle of a movie that’s currently being promoted featuring the five fired climbers, a movie Clif Bar is a sponsor of and that is receiving good publicity and awards.

Some people are saying that that’s unfair — that while Clif Bar continues to support the movie, they don’t want to be associated with the athletes who risked their lives in it.

Alex Honnold responded in his Op-Ed that while he respects Clif Bar’s decision, “…it did seem odd that after years of support, some at Clif Bar seemed to have awakened suddenly and realized that climbing without a rope on vertical walls as high as 2,000 feet is dangerous.”

What do you think about Clif Bar’s decision? 

P.S. Obviously, don’t try these activities at home!

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