Is sponsorship a sin?

No, but bullshit is.

UPDATE: After some dialog with editors of some of the climbing magazines, I see now that the first few paragraphs of this post may seem critical of the magazines. That is not what I intended. My beef is not with the magazines, but with opportunistic climbers of questionable integrity and the brands that support them. It’s not the magazines’ responsibility to police our sport. It’s my hope that the climbers themselves will do that, and then the brands will follow suit.

After 15 years of climbing, I rarely read climbing magazines. I have no subscriptions. If I do pick up a magazine, I usually only look at the pictures. The words make me nauseous.

My experienced climber friends are the same way. Some of them haven’t looked at a climbing magazine in years.

The more you climb, the less you’re interested in reading the same recycled stories with the same characters smiling from new faces. And the less you can tolerate the self-promotion that comes from white lies and self-serving exaggerations in hopes of becoming (or staying) sponsored. And those indulgences are rampant and widespread.

If sponsorship isn’t backed up by a legitimate accomplishment that is significant to the sport, then being rewarded for something insignificant is sad and undeserved. And it’s immoral, because it creates a facade, and facades are lies.

This happens more often than you might think. Many of the athletes you often see in climbing magazines are phenomenal at self-promotion, but range from average to crap at actually climbing. Ice, mixed and alpine climbing have the worst offenders. (Rock climbing is usually too consistent, popular and objective for lies to last long.) Truth is, many climbers are sponsored for what they say, or how well they’re known, rather than for what they’ve done.

The problem stems from the fact that the “athlete” is the performer, but also the judge and the journalist. A lack of objectivity and a lack of integrity combine to create opportunistic self-promotion masquerading as journalism. The result is that average achievements beget above-average attention. (All those “Hot Flashes” you read, written in the third person, are often written by the climbers themselves.) Few other disciplines would tolerate such a lack of objectivity, but no direct access to the “feats” of accomplishment makes us dependent on it.

Sponsorship is only defensible when the degree of self-promotion is equal to or less than the significance of the achievement. When Good Climber does something Rad and says, “This is Rad”, that’s fine. Kudos. Too often though, Wanna Be Famous does something mediocre and says, “This is Rad! Really! I swear!”

The sad fact about our sport is that genuine devotees are the exception, not the rule. True athletes, masters, and visionaries do exist, but only some of them are sponsored. Most are not.

Disclosure: Yes, I was a sponsored climber. I resigned from all of my sponsorships in December 2007. I am happy I did.