DeSena Responds To Podium Controversy


Spartan Podium

We heard from Joe DeSena late yesterday in regards to the recent Spartan Race podium rule changes. Here is what he sent us.

I’m here in Tokyo and find myself wanting to write my friends directly. I haven’t read anything online, but a few people in our organization have said, “Wow, I can’t believe what some people are writing about the new Spartan podium rules.” Even though I never read these ridiculous things, I believe all press is good. 

I realize that I need to offer clarity to everyone who’s confused, frustrated, or simply impacted. I apologize for not contacting each of you directly, but in the interest of time—and because I want to be completely open about this—I thought this email was a better choice of communication. 

So, feel free to share this message. Or not. And also always know that the world has my email address should they want to talk to me.

There’s an old adage: “Before you criticize a person, walk a mile in his or her shoes.” This saying was first coined by the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans as “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”

Henry Ford also said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

In other words, when you understand what drives another person’s perspective, you’re not only likely to have a complete view of the subject but are likely to regard the other person’s viewpoint with greater empathy. 

That’s what I’m doing now. I’m walking in the shoes of the elites: What’s the issue with the rule Spartan has put forth and how does it negatively impact the elite athletes we’ve helped develop over the past 7 years? I suspect they’re concerned that if they have to take a photo on our podium in standard Spartan gear, it will hurt their chances of earning sponsorship dollars. I suspect they also believe that being told what to wear is not American. 

These are valid concerns. I realize now that I should have fully explained this rule, along with the reasons for it, before we released it. I take complete responsibility and hope this message helps create clarity around these changes.

Here’s why we are putting this rule in effect: We believe obstacle racing is a sport. We also believe that for it to be recognized globally as a sport—not only by the elites, but by civilians, military, and the Olympic Committee itself—we need to start acting like a sport. 

This is not just an opinion. I have been working for 6-plus years trying to get us recognized by the Olympics, so that we can be included in the Games. I have had countless meetings with individuals who know what it requires, and several who are involved in decisions like this.  

The common themes in all these conversations: professionalism and consistency—in everything from how our elites dress to the branding of our events. To that end, it’s vital to the brand and our sponsors that we not allow our podium to be hijacked.

Your turn: Walk in Spartan management’s shoes for a minute. Imagine how taken aback we are when an elite quickly rips off his shirt to slip into one from another brand in front of our NBC cameras? Or how we feel when we get a call from one of our sponsors, which help finance 200 races in 30 countries annually, berating us. Lets be clear- there is NO Spartan Race without these sponsors. Luckily, we are Spartans. We move past it and don’t get upset. You can forgive in one minute or carry anger for a lifetime, that said- not everyone is like us.

The bottom line is this: We all want this to become a legitimately recognized sport, with participation and spectator rates as high as the other major sports. Together, we can continue to grow Spartan and make the world a healthier place along the way. We are well positioned to take that next step. Professionalism and consistency is a small price to pay. 

In fact, from my perspective, it is logical, and helps us all win. I hope this email will help you begin to see it in much the same way. Stay tuned for more updates. 

Joe- your friend in good times and bad.

We’d love to know your thoughts on Joe’s statements. Please comment below and let us know.

*Photo credit: Trek and Run

Matt B. Davis

is the host of the Obstacle Racing Media Podcast and the author of "Down and Dirty-The Essential Training Guide for Obstacle Races and Mud Runs". He is also the only (known) #wafflehouseelite obstacle racer.
  1. If Reebok is calling up and yelling at Joe (berating), as he said, then something is wrong. Reebok’s logos are everywhere in the pictures and at the event. If this has not translated to product sales, it is NOT Spartans fault, they have done all they can to put Reebok front and center.

    Let’s consider most other professional (non-track and field) sports from motocross to NASCAR to triathlons to cycling…who requires the winners to wear the events sponsor’s gear?! I believe that would violate most contracts.

    This sounds like pressure from a massive sponsor that ‘owns’ Spartan…and that is how it reads to me what what is written by Joe. I question the absolute dependence on sponsors. If a race cannot breakeven or even ‘perform financially well’ with the number of participants that Spartan has, then we have a much bigger problem for our sport.

  2. I love the Spartan community. However it is very obvious who the brand caters to in social networking. T
    People belonging to teams with lots of friends get picked even for theTV series.
    With world OcR happening when Sparta2nd World was. That brings in a new variable also.

  3. Jeesh does this guy get more entitled by the day? Olympics, what a joke. Spartan winners purposefully skip obstacles so they can do burpees to be faster. Spartan takes themselves so seriously it’s become funny. Throwing a stick at a hay bale and filling a bucket with rocks, yeah, that’s gonna make the Olympics.

    How come Joe is always back tracking on every new rule change? What a fluff piece. I see he made sure to tell all the elites how he’s helped create them. Followed up by 12 Google’d inspirational quotes. Then once again saying Spartan doesn’t make any money. Poor little old Spartan, just couldn’t do it without any sponsors. Those buckets of rocks must be real expensive.

    1. If you honestly have such a problem with Spartan, why bother reading an articles concerning it? Spartan Race has been a huge factor in the success and growth of OCR, and is still one of the most serious and well put together races there is. And Joe’s desire to take it to the Olympics has been well documented, and is even in the basis for Spartan Race. He mentions multiple times in his books his respect for ancient Spartan culture, and the Grecian Olympic games. And since those are the major influences for Spartan Race in the first place, it would only make sense he wants to take it to the highest respected echelon of sports in the world. If you despise this all so much, the don’t podium on an elite level. Or even better, don’t race, because I guarantee people who enjoy the basic fundamentals of OCR don’t want this negativity on the course with them.

  4. To say Elite winners should get over having to wear a Spartan shirt is ridiculous. People on the Spartan Pro Team are paid to wear Spartan gear. One of their own blasted a competitive race. I want to wear who sponsors me when I’m on that podium. People pay race fees, and they are getting more expensive. I have an Elite pass, but I still have to make it to races and my sponsor helps with that, as well as provides my gear. My sponsor isn’t competition for Spartan. Joe I’m a way said that he doesn’t want to make Spartan sponsors mad because they make the races possible. Well, Joe, you’re wrong. Spartan racers make the races possible. The millions who aren’t Pro members, who don’t get paid, who meet and become friends with other Spartans, and later share gas, vehicles, squish into hotel rooms, sleep in cars…We are the ones who make the races possible and pay your pro team. Don’t forget about the rest of us.

  5. 100% agree with Joe. If I am on the podium at a Spartan, don’t be an A-hole who wears a competitor or rival brand because they sponsored you…you can almost think of it as taking a bribe from another company trying to gain more reputation. Be a role model and support what you are there for…after, if you want to walk around in an ORM shirt or headband, by all means DO IT!

  6. I GOT IT… wear both???? Look IF Rebok is a main sponsor that the spartan organization absolutly NEEDS to put on the event then they should be FEATURED, THEN spartan can maybe have like the athletes personal sponsor get some kind of exposure as well. with that said when you watch a show on chanel CBS they NO WAY will feature a commercial or show on NBC will they???? BUT we do need top athletes to participate and they need funds and training to do so. Rebok is the i guess OFFICIAL sponsor right? Then maybe if nike sponsored an athlete they could have a smaller exposure? with enfases on rebok. or maybe thats not a good idea and not have another shoe company cause i associate them with shoes and not necessarily gear like Nike seems to have more of. or the sponsors simply sponsor athletes just because they can and love sports. Heck NIKE is Billion dollar company sure they can thru few bucks hear and there. THEN they should make their own commercial/advertising with the sponsor athlete and NOT INFRINGE with a desparate move as to have an athlete advertise on another TV station per say. THEY WOULD FIRE HIM. My thoughts are getting clearer as i type. As the last comment said they should have fined him. Yes indeed, he is a nice guy and ive spoken to him few times before but they should block/fine him from couple events/games like they would a football or basket ball player right. Thats TOTALLY disrespectfull to the spartan team and joe who have paid there dues to grow spartan sport brand to what it is. Joe should and DOES OWN THE RIGHTS to anything spartan. the athlete made a serious error and should be talked to and now set the rules. no advertising other than spartan stuff and sponsors in the future for him and other athletes… OR penalties will be enforced what ever they may be. Spartan is growing and olympic event is coming soon. one comment said about silly spear throw in hay. solution::: i have written spartan before about this. ABSOLUTLY NEED AND MUST HAVE….. an OFFICIAL spear,, they all the same weight and not a bent up ass tip, they need an OFFICIAL sand bag. the double sand bag carry at the last world was terrible. one of mine started to come open but thankfull it was double wrapped at least BUT THE BIG BIG problem was they had duct tape on them and some competitors were able to use tape as a handle but on mine it wasnt wrapped the same and i saw him run buy me holding bages like they had handles on NO other advertising allowed PERIOD. Standard issue props a big must and AGE GROUP AWARDS AGE GROUP AWARDS. i have written numerous times about these. the coin says commoderie courage competition. Where is the competition when like serious competitors which i kind of consider myself that are older 54 compete. they only give out masters awards. so why have a competitive division on sign up at all. they should have 5 year increments age group awards. i mentioned this to a gentlman at the world that was actually part of the olympic committee and he quote said he was shock to here that there wasnt any age group awards. he said wheres the competition in the age groups??? its not easy for joe to lean one way or the other on things like advertising. if both his sponsors and the athletes sponsors can get some exposure then it the consumer who will choose which product they want, if that doesnt work then current sponsors should be the only ones and policy enforced AGE GROUP AWARDS PLEAse

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