The 2014 Naughty List
Before we can get to all our favorites who made the Nice List, let's take a look at those who've earned their way onto the Naughty List. 10. Whole Foods. I can hear it now. "Whoa, hold on just one second Coach Cane, I came here for your usual angry rants about cheaters, dopers and frauds, but Whole Foods is as pure as the driven snow." Yes, somehow, a $13 billion company that sells you $4 bottles of water, useless (but expensive) detox and cleanse products, and is being sued for misleading their "consumers by asserting medicinal qualities of [homeopathic remedies], while concealing the fact that such products are immune from FDA evaluation and regulation” is viewed as one of the good guys, and their political lobbying is seen as defending the consumer as opposed to creating a market designed to fatten their bottom line. And folks say I'm the naive one.
Don't get me wrong, their food is delicious and convenient. If I were sure that Simon would earn a scholarship, I'd cash out the college fund tomorrow and shop there all the time. But let's not pretend that they're not telling lies or that they are any more righteous or concerned with your health than the next multi-billion dollar corporation looking to empty your pockets any way they can.
9. Backboneless Race Directors. Just as there are runners who are willing to bend the rules to get what they want, there are race directors who don’t seem to give a damn. The officials at the Philadelphia Marathon are one such example. Last year when I pointed out some glaring cases of cheating, including apparent course cutting from women who were given age group awards, their response was, "We weed out the obvious cheaters and then check our other resources when a runner’s performance is questioned. The truth of the matter is that very few people actually cheat. Don’t get me wrong, some do and we see it but most don’t. What most races around the world have seen is that people end up cutting the course and not finishing more from just being tired than from cheating and most will actually contact us when they realize that they crossed the finish line and got a time. In most of these cases, the people who do cheat only cheats (sic) themselves because they don’t get an award and they have a hollow performance. Races could spend a lot of time weeding out every cheater in their events and humiliating them. Most races prefer to give the athletes a very safe and good experience. Check for the people that might have cheated to get an award and leave it at that."
The inherent suggestion that it’s impossible to have a simultaneously safe AND accurate race is insulting, as is the notion that cheating doesn’t matter if you’re not fast. Ultimately, it’s their race and they can do as they please with it, but their laziness hidden behind a disingenuous argument about safety is offensive. If you have a course with a big out-and-back section which is practically begging for runners with questionable morals to cheat, you owe it to responsible, honest athletes to police your race. The extra cost of additional mats and a few manpower hours should not deter you. If I can catch these people in a few hours (for free I might add), so can anyone who cares.
8. Frauds. Last year in my examination of the state of the fitness world, I called out Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola for prioritizing income over honesty. Sadly, nothing has changed, and they still warrant prominent mention on this list. This year Oz was reprimanded by the Senate, and a recent analysis showed that fully half of his medical advice is baseless or wrong. Mercola's circulating baseless claims about a causal relationship between root canals and cancer and other such nonsense.
And this year, let’s throw in Mike Adams of Natural News not only for pseudoscience and fear mongering, but for suggesting that anti-GMO activists should consider murdering scientists and journalists for their crimes against humanity, as well as for later (unsuccessfully) trying to scrub those references from the internet.
7. Condescending people. Read my social media feed, my blog, or spend two minutes talking to me and it will be clear that I have strong opinions. I like to think those opinions are defensible (and hopefully correct), but I’m the first to admit that I’m far from perfect. That being the case, I welcome respectful disagreement, and I try to learn from everyone. I grab ideas from my athletes, my peers, my competitors, and anyone else I can.
So while I welcome dissenting opinions, I don’t tolerate condescending ones, especially if they come from someone without my credentials and background. Nothing infuriates me more than someone who doesn’t have half my experience, education or accomplishments in coaching talking down to me and beginning a sentence with “what you don’t understand is…”. Until those folks can back up their opinions with more than N=1 anecdotal nonsense or "I read it in Men's Fitness Magazine," they're gonna get sonned.
6. People who appropriate perfectly good exercise names. Back in the day I was lucky enough to work with, and socialize with, some of the strongest powerlifters in the world. At meets, I looked as out of place as the Food Babe at a Mensa meeting. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) I carefully studied the rulebook and learned all about the required form in the squat, bench press, and deadlift, each of which has strict regulations in competition. For instance, in a regulation deadlift, among other rules, the bar can't stop (or move down), the bar can't rest on the lifter's legs, no gloves are allowed, the lifter's feet can't move, and the bar must be controlled on the way down.
Take a look at and tell me if what you see here bears any resemblance to what's described above.
When I see folks calling something a deadlift that isn't a deadlift, it makes me sad for humanity. They didn't PR in the deadlift, they PR'ed in some made up exercise that has a few characteristics in common with a deadlift. Same thing for pull-ups that aren't really pull-ups, squats that aren't really squats - you get the idea.
Don't get me wrong, the woman in the video above is amazing, and my intention isn't to mock her. It's just that that thing she's doing is not a deadlift. I'm not here to rekindle that debate about training techniques or get the related hate mail that's usually angry and misspelled. (See above entry on condescending, unqualified experts.) My point is simply that if you're going to make up a new exercise, in turn, you should call it something new, rather than sullying the good name of an existing, well defined exercise. I won't say that I did a 360 windmill dunk if what I really did was pivot and drop a piece of paper in the garbage while sitting on the toilet, and you won't call that a deadlift. Deal? Deal.
5. Not so expert experts. As Dara O’Briain famously put it, “a dietitian is to a nutritionist as a dentist is to a toothiologist. In this State you need a license to cut hair or give a manicure, but there are no regulations on who can call themselves a coach, a nutritionist, or an exercise physiologist. Call me crazy, but I'm trusting a dietitian with a strong background in biochemistry who went to a real college and earned a BS degree over a nutritionist who earned a certificate from the Institute of BS.
While I'm at it, I'm also bothered by in-house certifications and credentials given by many gyms and other companies. Calling someone a "Brand X master trainer" or "level Y certified" is meaningless if said credential is bestowed by their employer. Those credentials exist to make their staff look good. National certifications and degrees from accredited colleges and universities are what count.
4. Plastic Surgery Enhanced Authorities. To be very clear, I don't care who enhances their appearance with plastic surgery. Some of my friends have had things lifted, tucked, pulled or enlarged. It's none of my damn business, and I don't think any less of them for it. But, if you're a fitness blogger, trainer, or model, or anyone else who's claiming that your exercise, diet, or lifestyle is why you look great, and your appearance has been altered by plastic surgery, botox, or other after-market work, you're a fraud.
Don't hold up a bottle of supplements or hawk your latest DVD saying it'll help your audience look like you unless there's a coupon for 50% at your surgeon's office inserted into the box. It's false advertising and it creates implausible, unhealthy goals for those who follow you.
3. Cheaters. I like to think that my social media and blog following is due to my extensive knowledge of physiology and my years of coaching experience. And Kate Upton likes to think that her popularity is due to her wry sense of humor and rapier wit. Yet casting directors keep giving Ms. Upton a small bikini to wear while riding horseback, and every year my most popular blog posts are those that expose cheaters in their various forms. I’ve given up fighting it, and have chosen to embrace my role as “cheater catcher extraordinaire”.
In some ways, the current state of cheating is different than what it was just a few years ago. Technology has made it easy for folks to print their own, almost-perfect looking race bibs to enter events without paying for them, and it’s also increasingly easy to anonymously buy and sell race bibs via craigslist and other message boards. As such, most big races have a significant number of high-tech bandits who look legit. Thankfully, it’s also increasingly easy to identify many of these cheaters if you’re willing to sift through online race photos looking for conspicuous offenders. (Spoiler alert: I'm willing.) In this year’s marathon we caught quite a few very quickly. Notable cases included the decidedly white man wearing a bib assigned to a Black Girls Run woman, and one gentleman whose time was good enough to “earn” a sub-3:00 finish and top-30 placing for the woman whom the bib was registered to, even though she had never broken 4:30 before.
Those of you longing for the good old days need not worry. There are still the good old-fashioned cheaters, like the guy pictured above who jumped into the NYC Marathon this year somewhere between miles 20-21 and was shuffling along as 6-minute milers whizzed by him as if he was nothing more than a large, stationary, traffic cone. He covered the last miles of the course, but was conspicuous because he was much slower and bigger than those around him. And there are still plenty of folks who chose to forgo those pesky last 10 miles of the Marathon by cutting straight from the 59th Street Bridge over to Central Park.
Old-school or new, cheaters still suck.
2. The Food Babe. Let's face it, PT Barnum was right. "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” The Food Babe's special brand of anti-intellectual pseudoscience caters to her “army” which is comprised of everyone from mouth breathers, to those with good intentions who are gullible and lacking the scientific savvy to understand the many flaws in her “theories," to all out tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists who think it wise to trust a blogger with a computer science degree instead of overwhelming scientific consensus.
Read her blog and you'll come across mind-numbing stupidity like "microwaved water produced a similar physical structure to when the words 'satan' and ‘hitler' were repeatedly exposed to the water.” (She has since taken down that post, but it lives on in screen-cap infamy.) She has warned about air travel because, "The air that is pumped in isn’t pure oxygen either, it’s mixed with nitrogen, sometimes almost at 50%," apparently unaware of what the rest of us learned in middle school science class, that the earth’s atmosphere is nearly 80% nitrogen. And let’s not forget my favorite anti-intellectual fear mongering statement that "when you look at the ingredients [in food], if you can’t spell it or pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t eat it.”
If you dare to disagree with her, ask her to substantiate her pseudoscientific claims, call her out for telling her army to lie in restaurants and say the have food allergies, or politely respond to her question about whom you trust by saying “science," she bans you from her Facebook page. In fact, there is a robust Facebook page called Banned By Food Babe, for just such people.
Some of her less committed defenders use the tired "what's the harm?" argument. Spare me. You want harm? How about when she started dispensing advice to women with BRCA mutations?
Forget for a moment that as the Kavin Senapathy of the Genetic Literacy Project (more on her in the Nice List) points out, everyone has the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, so you don't "test positive" for them. Focus on GLP's explanation, which contains those scary multisyllabic words that Food Babe hates so much: "Both of these genes code for tumor suppressor proteins. When there is a defective mutant allele in certain region of these genes, the tumor suppressor proteins aren’t produced, or don’t function correctly. Still, everyone has a copy of these genes inherited from each parent, so the un-mutated copy produces the proper proteins, thus compensating for the deleterious mutation on the other copy. The problem is it’s much more likely, almost certain that a mutation will occur in one cell on the “good” version, so now both copies are messed up eventually leading to cancer. For someone without one of these inherited mutations, a somatic mutation would have to occur on *both* copies of the gene in the same cell. Statistically, it’s very unlikely that this will happen, so this specific, nasty form of breast cancer will not occur in a person without a mutation inherited from mom or dad. So statistically, a person that has inherited one of these problem alleles is pretty much screwed." The GLP concludes by saying "Sorry Food Babe, all the organic kale and healthy smoothies in the world don’t change that." Delaying medical counsel in favor of the advice of a blogger who clearly lacks an understanding of the situation sounds pretty harmful if you ask me.
Or how about her advice to pregnant women to forego a glucose tolerance test when ordered by their physician? Is undiagnosed gestational diabetes harmful enough? What about her telling her fans that it's OK to give babies and children raw milk despite the fact that it's potentially fatal? Call me crazy, but dead kids sound harmful.
Members of her army have accused me of being naive for trusting the government to regulate things. (Yet, ironically they only buy foods that have been certified as organic, as if the government has nothing to do with that process.) Let's be clear about something. I'm 50 years old, have lived my entire life in New York City, and have worked for both the City and Federal governments. It is mathematically impossible for me to be naive. It's not a matter of my putting faith in the government. It's a matter of trusting overwhelming scientific consensus over the opinion of an unqualified blogger who is a fear monger and paid shill. That's not naïveté , it's common sense.
1. Dopers. This is the most predictable of my annual gripes. It will be here every year until it goes away. (In other words, it will be here every year). PED use is rampant in sports, and it means that clean athletes are robbed of glory, paydays, and recognition. From Marion Jones to Lance Armstrong - two dopers who came clean after years of denials and no positive tests - we've seen that testing methods don't keep up with doping and masking, and we've seen that dopers will say or do anything to perpetuate their secrets, and their paydays.
More and more it seems that there is a significant portion of fans who simply don't care. Even years after her death, Florence Griffith-Joyner, an athlete who 90% of letsrun.com readers believe to have been dirty, is celebrated. Perhaps it's by the minority who turn a blind eye and choose to believe that she was clean, or perhaps drug use is just accepted. I can't help but wonder who has the fastest drug-free 100 and 200 meter times in history, and it's a shame that we'll never know.
It’s not just in sports that doping angers me. Look at popular culture. I could live a comfortable existence off of the PED budget of the cast of The Expendables. I've previously outlined the disgraceful career path of Arnold Schwarzenegger and pointed out that without the notoriety and physique that was fueled by his steroid use, he no doubt would never have been the Chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, movie star, or Governor of California. His continued popularity and wealth teaches our youth that cheaters do in fact prosper. Same goes for The Rock, who admitted to doping as a collegiate football player but wants us to turn our back on logic and believe that his 42-year old, implausibly bigger self is clean. It's more likely Santa Claus himself wrote this Naughty List. Don't get me wrong, both Arnold and The Rock are personable and talented guys, but chances are that if they had never taken PED's they'd be far less rich and famous, and if PED's didn't exist, there'd be a whole different list of rich and famous athletes and movie stars.
Admittedly, unlike doped up athletes, movie stars are not stealing prize money by accepting a paycheck from a production company, but they are misleading the public when they promote training methods and supplements and claim that’s how they got their implausible physiques. And, just like the plastic surgery patients, they're setting up unhealthy and unrealistic goals for kids (and adults) who aspire to look like them.
As I've pointed out before, research from the government’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey found in 2005 that 4 percent of kids in grades 9 through 12 reported steroid use. According to an MSNBC report, among those students who admitted to steroid use “57 percent said professional athletes influenced their decision to use the drugs and 63 percent said pro athletes influenced their friends’ decision to use them. Eighty percent of users — and 35 percent of non-users — said they believed steroids could help them achieve their athletic dreams.”
In closing, let me directly address dopers. Dear Doper: The "everyone is doing it" and "I'm not hurting anyone else" excuses are tired and false. PED use has dangerous implications far beyond just those abusing the drugs. You cheat your competitors and you influence others. In short, DOPERS SUCK. As my friend the Science Babe would say, tattoo that backwards on your ass and look at it in the mirror the next time you're shooting yourself with a syringe.