Before we dive into a controversial subject, we’ll say this: No two people share the exact same circumstances, and no two people face the same obstacles to success, their dreams, or whatever. That being said, is it okay for athletes to use crowd funding platforms (like GoFundMe) to raise money for competition costs?
If you’re actively following lifters, CrossFit athletes, or really any group in the ranks of amateur-but-competitive athlete, chances are you’ve seen your fair share of campaigns raising money for:
- Travel to such and such competition.
- A trip to train under such and such coach.
- New gear/physical therapy sessions/upkeep costs for staying elite in sports that take a demanding physical toll.
Use of GoFundMe is not something unique to strength athletes, but it is perhaps more pronounced than in other categories of sport. And it really comes down to money: Olympic prospects may be struggling to make ends meet, but even the lowest paid athlete on an MLB, NHL, NFL, or NBA roster is generally clearing well into the six figures.
In the United States, the top weightlifters compete for relatively microscopic prize pools compared to what some “professional” athletes can make in a single game. So it’s entirely possible to among the best and strongest at what you do, but make very little money off it. If staying the best requires a nearly full-time pursuit of training and recovery, that means strength athletes are often faced with the choice of training full time and foregoing more gainful employment, or balancing a job that could potentially take time and energy away from getting better.
And as a midway point in that cycle, many strength athletes turn to crowd funding, usually to cover the cost of competition trips (some very expensive and international), rehab from injury, or other sport-related expenses.
The financial/training balance is not something unique to the United States or its strength athletes. Andy Bolton — one of the world’s most celebrated powerlifters and for a time the undisputed deadlift king — worked as a delivery driver during his prime competition years. He may have been the first person to deadlift 1,000 pounds, but those impressive lifts didn’t guarantee a steady string of income in between comps. And while some countries run organized strength sport programs that provide athlete stipends, they’re often inconsistent and tied very closely to recent performances. Miss a few lifts when it counts, and your income may be diminished greatly.
And it’s worth mentioning that while the CrossFit Games have become a heavily-publicized, well-watched event that pay out massive cash prizes to the top athletes, it’s only the tippy-top of the best who are seeing big prize windfalls. Qualifying for Regionals is harder than ever; paying for it is an even bigger challenge for some competitors. While the NPGL has endeavored to provide new opportunities for fitness/strength athletes to “go pro” and make more consistent paychecks, that dream is still very much in its nascent stages with no guarantee of success.
All that being said, competing in these sports — with the exception, perhaps, of Soviet-era feeder programs — is a choice. Sports like weightlifting, powerlifting, and competitive fitness don’t have farm teams or minor league structures like the major sports (and to be fair, only the very best in those leagues will see Ferrari-sized paychecks anyway). High-paying sponsorships are far from guaranteed. People generally know what they’re getting into when they decide they want to try to pick up heavier things or move weight faster than anyone else.
So, we want to hear your thoughts:
When the financial demands of becoming or staying competitive become too great, is it okay for these athletes to ask the public for help? Is it a constructive use of social media followings, or just asking for a handout?
Have you supported a strength athlete’s crowdfunding campaign before, and if so, why? And if you would refuse to do so on principal, why?
We want to hear your thoughts in the comments. Because there are more than enough to go around on Instagram.