by Matt Weik
Social media by far changes the playing field for fans of various sports. Never before were fans able to nearly reach out and touch athletes as well as communicate with them directly. Now, you can tweet your favorite athletes or hit them up in comments or DMs on Instagram, and if you’re lucky, they’ll hit you back. Yet, it seems like other televised sports have a different group of fans and acceptance when compared to bodybuilding. Why is that?
If You Don’t Look the Part… Well, What Do You Know?
Growing up as a kid, I never played football – I preferred playing other sports. But that never stopped me from being a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan and watching every game. I’d break down the game and highlights with friends (who played football), and they accepted the fact that I loved the game of football without actually playing on an organized team like our school team (which happened to be one of the best in the state at the time).
If you look at bodybuilding (especially online), things are entirely different. Today, if you don’t look the part or aren’t an actual competitor, it’s almost like you’re shunned from even being a fan. I mean, what do you know, right? How can you break down and discuss bodybuilding if you don’t live the lifestyle, never competed, and are under 200 pounds? It’s almost comical to watch the banter back and forth online from internet trolls who think if you’re natty, you’re not a bodybuilder, nor are you serious about the sport of bodybuilding.
Go to any football game and look around. Go to any baseball game and look around. Go to any soccer, baseball, or hockey game and look around. What do you see? Diversity. Men, women, tall, short, thin, heavy, muscular, frail, young, and old. All of these large professional sports are inclusive, and anyone who shows love towards the sport is welcomed with open arms. Why is bodybuilding not really like that?
Of course, you have the people who embrace those who also share a love for the sport, but then you have those who are on their high horse and think everyone needs to fit a specific mold and check certain boxes in order to be considered a bodybuilding fan.
If you’ve ever walked around the Arnold Classic expo out in Columbus, OH, it can be quite overwhelming – not to mention a stinky experience (thank you, protein farts). While people in a gym are never frowned upon as everyone hits the gym to improve their health and physique, bodybuilding seems totally different. The Arnold Classic expo floor is swarmed with mass monsters who may have never competed before, but just looking at their physique makes you understand they are deep into the sport and live a bodybuilding lifestyle.
Then you have the fans who are simply in awe of bodybuilders, their physiques, and the dedication that it takes to even add the quality muscle needed to step on stage. I’ll take myself as an example. I can’t tell you how many times people have made remarks directed at me for talking about bodybuilding, yet never competing or being big and ripped. My heaviest was around 210 and now sit around 200 all year.
Did I ever get the cover of a fitness magazine? Yup, I have checked that box. Have I ever been featured in publications for my physique? Yup, I’ve checked that box too. But even with that being said (and the fact that most people don’t know me, my story, and background), I still get shade thrown my way for not being 250 pounds if I want to talk about bodybuilding and specific bodybuilders in content or at events.
I and thousands of fans love the sport of bodybuilding and follow everything that’s happening in the industry. But make the wrong comment, and you get a, “Do you even lift? What do you know about bodybuilding? Have you ever stepped on a bodybuilding stage?” This takes me back to my point about football. I can know everything about football, all of the players, the ins and outs of plays, yet never take one snap on a football field. So, why is there such a difference between those sports and bodybuilding? Heck, you even have coaches and owners of teams who have never played the game in their life yet are immersed in the sport.
To Grow the Sport of Bodybuilding, We Need to Build the Community
The sport of bodybuilding has been taboo for as long as I can remember. Those involved in the sport seem to walk around with a target on their back from the general population outside of our space. What I’d like to see is all of us be better. Be better people. Be better fans. Be better ambassadors for the sport. And that goes for all of the IFBB pros as well.
I get it, bodybuilding is a very individual and isolated sport. You don’t have teams or teammates, it’s literally just you putting in the work every day. I encourage everyone to do more to help others. Bodybuilders are looked at as freaks, people who only care about themselves, conceited, narcissistic, unfriendly, and ready to explode at any minute due to “roid rage.” While some of these are accurate, they’re not the majority, and we all know competitive bodybuilders are friendly people and mostly misunderstood because people only see the exterior shell.
Let’s be more inclusive with bodybuilding. Introduce more people to it. Continue to build the community. While it may never be a televised sport or participate in the Olympics, that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a sport. Let’s stop being so hyper-critical of people who don’t “fit the mold” of bodybuilding and be more inclusive. A fan is a fan, and the last thing we need is to turn off and turn away the people who would actually pay to put their butt in a seat at the Arnold Classic, the Olympia, NY Pro, or any other event. Together, we can change the stereotypical “meathead” mentality that people have when they look at bodybuilders. It’s going to take a collective effort, but I believe we can do it.