The two part article/blog regarding certification of powerlifting products generated more e mail than expected, and has led me to believe that many in the sport do not understand how the real world operates. For those of a past generation, think about the movie Back To School, starring comedian Rodney Dangerfield. As Thornton Melon, a very successful, businessman with a limited education but plenty of street smarts, Rodney decides to attend college in order to be in proximity to and support his struggling son. One of the classic comedies of the 1980’s, the relevant scene for this discussion is one in which the business class professor is shocked by the business start-up comments made by the experienced and wealthy Melon. In his role, Dangerfield notes that money will be needed to pay off building inspectors, union leaders, and others in order to actually get buildings erected or renovated, and any business off the ground floor. He notes these and other “hidden costs” such as kick-backs to those who operate the typical supply and service industries. The professor has never been in business and has no doubt never left the campus or protective walls of academia, and just doesn’t get it. However, having had more than one successful business in the New York City area, I can attest that Dangerfield’s vision of “how things are” is the absolute truth, not the cloistered professor’s.
A real life, training related example was our building and opening of the Iron Island Gym on Long Island. Kathy and I had a very successful business that we operated from our home office. Because our neighborhood was far from “high end” economically, had a relatively significant rate of crime, and was ethnically and racially mixed, there was no doubt that we were granted more latitude in running our business than we would have been given in a “better neighborhood.” As an exercise physiologist, Kathy had her own clientele to rehabilitate and I had a mix of chiropractic and rehabilitation patients, and athletes in need of repair or preparation for their Olympic, professional, collegiate, or high school seasons. We worked from the office area, the garage, and the driveway. The neighbors were often greeted by blood curdling screams as a lot of weight was lifted or at least attempted, and just as often followed by a string of hard-core profanity. It was “all good” but I was constantly patching the concrete driveway and at some point, knew that a frequently altered cast of neighbors due to the socioeconomic difficulties in our area would eventually cause a problem. We made the decision to open a commercial facility. Our time in California (and Kathy was Ms. California among her other physique titles. Is anyone aware that a few decades ago you could claim residency after less than a month in-state?) and Kathy’s relationship with Lee Moran and his wife brought Lee’s training headquarters to our attention and yes, the “Iron Island Gym” name that we used reflected all we wished to say about our old fashioned, hard-nosed, approach to training on Long “Island” with few frills, and also paid homage to “Johnny’s Iron Island” in Alameda, California.
A plate loaded Husafell Stone from Beast Metals in Sacramento, CA, the latest addition to our current home/office facility
Before opening and in fact, before signing the lease, I asked for a meeting with what could be described as a “certain known individual” who owned gyms in the New York City Metropolitan area. One was relatively close to our prospective site and this individual and three other gentlemen met me at the closed warehouse we had targeted as a terrific place to construct a gym, and walked through the space with me. I explained what I planned to do, how it would be built, what faction of the lifting/training community we would be targeting, and in short, was basically asking for their permission to go forward with the project. We had not yet gotten to matters such as trash collection when I was told in a joking manner, but one that spoke a ton and change of seriousness, that “You’ve done a lot for us and our people. You got fast delivery on equipment to our gyms, helped a lot of our guys with their training, a lot of stuff. Hey, no problem, you and Kathy go ahead, we won’t firebomb your place.” This was spoken with a smile, a wink, a nod, and the complete understanding on both sides that if they had said I would not build and open a gym in this location, I would not have built and opened the gym. As per Thorton Melon, this is how the world works. I assumed that “everyone knows these things” when noting the lifting organizations’ monies spent on dinners, prostitutes, travel, luxurious hotels, and other “perks” by some of the lifting federation officials. Many in our sport found all of this as “baffling news.” Uh, welcome to the real world as we know it.
Not exactly but sort of the guys that approved the opening of our Iron Island Gym.
I must digress here and make a statement about Dangerfield. As I have mentioned numerous times, and have within one of my writings made specific mention of Dangerfield, my father and I knew him well when he was a struggling comedian. My father was an iron worker but he always had “another job,” a second job and for many years, he was the manager of a nightclub. I fulfilled every job within the walls of the club from dishwasher to cook, from bartender to bouncer when I became older, and everything in-between. I can clearly recall Dangerfield, whom we knew as “Jack,” or “Jack Roy,” altered from his birth name of Jacob Cohen, coming around frequently to literally beg for work. He would show up at the back door asking for my father, asking to perform “for only ten minutes if possible,” trying to get his career off the ground. He was already in his late thirties or early forties around 1960 or ’61, and my father thought that he was “a really good guy” and also thought he was funny, funnier than some of the headliners. Thus, Rodney would go on stage previously unannounced, do his thing for fifteen or twenty minutes, and I was always told to “have dinner for him.” We would sit in the kitchen together and he would eat his free meal and leave until we would again see him a few weeks later, as always, asking for work. My father would pull a few bills out of his own pocket and slip it to him before he departed through the rear doorway. To his credit, he was always one of the nicest, most appreciative and modest individuals that our family met while in that business and of course, he later became a major star.
What is our “take away” regarding certification and should it matter to the everyday trainee or powerlifting competitor? Certification is a contract; you as the manufacturer or supplier do this, you do that, and you pay us a fee. We in turn give you a service for that fee, specifically for that certification fee. Truly, this is simple stuff, yet it of course just isn’t done due to laziness, selfishness, greed, self- promotion, or any number of other reasons. At the least, those paying a certification fee are paying for protection and the guarantee that their products will be utilized in sanctioned contests while the products of those who did not pay are not used. Simple, right? Might there be “flubs” or “looking the other way” at a local or high school level meet set in East Jerkwater, Indiana where the young lifters cannot afford to purchase a certified pair of wraps or a singlet after scrounging to pay a meet entry fee? It isn’t correct or ethical but all involved would certainly “get it” and perhaps say no more than “forget it, this benefits the kids.” However, at a major national meet I witnessed non-certified singlets and other articles of attire worn on the meet platform, a national venue with national federation approved officials, allowing this breach of contract. In some cases, the officials did not even know that a singlet for example, had to be a certified brand. Did I say this was at a national contest? In some cases, the answer was, “Well, the lifters would have to buy a new singlet here at the meet.” Well, yeah, that’s what certification is; this is what certification fees are paid for! Thus, if certification protection is not provided, simply put, certification fees will not be paid. If these fees are not paid, nothing is certified and the lifter or trainee is now subject to inferior products, illegally and improperly branded products, a lack of support for the federation(s), and the type of chaos that used to rule the sport. It is also the responsibility of every competitor to insure that they are in possession of the properly certified attire while the meet directors must provide properly certified, safe equipment on the platform and in the warm-up room. So yes, certification matters and application of the rules of any organization should uphold their end of the contract while lifters avoid problems by purchasing and using only federation certified products.