On Aug. 11, 2021, CNN interviewed seven-time Mr. Olympia winner and former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the surge of the Delta variant were brought up. Concerning the notion that mask mandates and social distancing impede peoples’ freedoms, Schwarzenegger said: “Screw your freedom because with freedom comes obligations and responsibilities.” He explained that those obligations and responsibilities are to “work together…to protect those fellow members [sic] around you.”
Schwarzenegger’s comments spurred backlash within the strength community. Sports Supplement company REDCON1 announced that they’d no longer sponsor the Arnold Classic (Schwarznegger’s namesake bodybuilding show). Four-time World’s Strongest Man (WSM) champion Brian Shaw publicly removed a poster of Schwarzenegger from the wall of his home gym. Strongman Robert Oberst released a video on his YouTube channel a day after Shaw’s clip, supporting his fellow strongman’s decision.
Before Shaw removed the poster, Schwarzenegger wrote an article for The Atlantic, published on Aug. 13, 2021, responding to the backlash to his comments. Below is an excerpt of the comments in question from the CNN interview from Schwarzenegger’s YouTube channel:
Schwarzenegger asserted that “the scientists and…experts” say people still need to wear masks and follow the other safety measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. He specifically cites the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Dr. Anthony Fauci. In the interview, Schwarzenegger addresses the notion that following these guidelines is an infringement of freedoms:
“There is a virus…it kills people. The only way we can prevent it is to get vaccinated, to wear masks, to do social distancing, washing your hands all the time, and not just to think about, ‘oh well, my freedom is kind of being disturbed here.’ No. Screw your freedom because with freedom comes obligations and responsibilities. We cannot just say; I have the right to do X, Y, and Z when you affect other people. That is when you get serious.”
Schwarzengger’s Follow Up
In his article for The Atlantic, Schwarzenegger admits that calling people who refuse to wear masks “schmucks” and saying “screw your freedom” was “a little much, even if I stand by the sentiment.” He shared a specific passage from the article on his Instagram page:
“Our country began with a willingness to make personal sacrifices for the collective good. It’s right there in the closing line of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.’ Almost two centuries later, John F. Kennedy posed his famous challenge: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’ Our country became great because every generation before us knew that liberty and duty go hand in hand. I am worried that many of my fellow Americans have now lost sight of that.”
Continued Backlash to “Screw Your Freedom”
Schwarzenegger’s piece in The Atlantic was published two days after the CNN interview, and the backlash online from the strength community continued. Shaw reacted to Schwarzenegger’s “screw your freedom” comment by posting a video to his Instagram of him removing the poster of Schwarzenegger from the wall of his gym. The video was posted a week after the CNN interview.
Shaw said, “Freedom didn’t come free, and I will always stand for freedom.” Shaw did not comment on COVID-19 or mask-wearing and did not mention Schwarzenegger’s article in The Atlantic.
Anthony Fuhrman, a U.S. Army veteran and a two-time World’s Strongest Man Under 105-kilograms, commented on Shaw’s post: “Tell me what you’ve done for this country and for freedom. Because I’ve bled for it and agree with Arnold that selfless service is the key to providing freedom. I don’t expect you to get it, I suppose.”
As of this writing, Shaw had not publicly responded to Fuhrman’s comment.
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WSM competitor Robert Oberst took to his YouTube channel the day after Shaw’s Instagram post to discuss Schwarzenegger’s “screw your freedom” comment and state that he is “fully 100 million percent behind Brian Shaw.” Oberst also did not specifically mention COVID-19 or mask-wearing.
Sports supplement brand REDCON1 posted on their Instagram page on Aug. 16, 2021, that they “decided to discontinue any and all support for the Arnold Classic and the other Arnold-related events around the world. Anyone who says ‘screw your freedom’ is un-American. We support freedom of choice.”
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REDCON1 previously sponsored the Arnold Classic and was set to be the exclusive sponsor of its webcast in 2021. The company, founded by Aaron Singerman, also sponsors several strongmen and bodybuilders, including Shaw, Oberst, Alex Cambronero, and George Peterson. Cambronero is currently scheduled to compete at the 2021 Arnold Classic scheduled for Sept. 25, 2021. The banner photo on the Arnold Classic website is currently Peterson posing next to Schwarzenegger.
Feature image: @shawstrength on Instagram and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s YouTube channel.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that Anthony Fuhrman won his two world titles in the under 105 kilogram category, not the +105kg category.