Is Social Media Killing Extreme Sports Athletes?

Is Social Media Killing Extreme Sports Athletes?

Pressure to produce quality content for social media profiles is contributing to the unnecessary injuries and deaths of many adventure sports athletes, according to Marc Peruzzi, a former competitive rider writing for Outside.

The need to create ever bigger, higher, faster, and more impressive feats is creating a culture that is having an impact on the lives of athletes. Peruzzi suggests that many climbers who would previously use ropes to secure ascents are now ditching their protective gear, pushed by the need to produce imagery to appeal to ever-increasing audiences who are harder and harder to impress on Instagram and elsewhere.

Speaking from his experience of working in the outdoor industry, and citing climbing, mountain biking, road cycling, and skiing as his examples, Peruzzi notes: “Increasingly, what we do outside is less about enjoying the activity itself as an intrinsic good, and more about planning ways to go bigger, faster, and farther, often for our selfie-stick mounted cameras.”

His assertions are supported by the growing numbers of brain injuries reported by emergency rooms, despite the fact that cars are getting safer. Doctors report that action sports are a factor in this increase of life-changing accidents.

In addition to exploring the need to produce content for social media, the article offers a fascinating insight into the concept of progression, and how it combines with "negative event feedback" whereby your ability to navigate risk increases your perceived sense of invincibility, prompting you to take greater risks in the future. However, in the mountains, avalanches pay little heed to a person's level of skill.

This need to create increasingly dangerous content in the form of photographs and videos is perhaps most starkly felt when exposure-pornstars — i.e., those on rooftops — are involved in accidents. Perhaps it's slowly becoming apparent that social media is also having a dramatic, but more subtle effect in other parts of adventure sports' culture.

Lead image courtesy of Richard Baybutt.

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15 Comments

Jonathan Brady's picture

Charles Darwin nailed this most eloquently years ago. "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."
Clearly, those that are getting injured and dying are NOT the most adaptable.

I hear drugs kill as well, but at least we can use the excuse that people make poor decisions while under the influence of narcotics and alcohol. These people are simply pursuing glory and the almighty dollar while under the influence of what? Social media? Most of the stuff they do is ridiculously dangerous to begin with, so let me ask a question, who is actually surprised by this? I believe this all is well documented as being part of the adolescent brain development. Teens and young adults rely on the amygdala to make decisions and solve problems more than adults. The amygdala is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instinctive behavior, and leads to what people with a more fully developed prefrontal cortex would call "stupid decisions."

Leigh Miller's picture

I think there was a study published recently about the dangers of tech and social media...haven't read it though.

William Howell's picture

There is this guy I subscribe to on YouTube and he does crazy bicycle stunts.
His name is Nic Hilton and the guy has talent and bravado, that’a what being young is all about.
With this display of derringer-do, it is designed to achieve one thing and one thing only! Guess what that one thing is?
I’ll give you a hint, it sort of sounds like cushy pushy!

Douglas Turney's picture

I would add that it is not just the athletes who are pushing for the "bigger" and "badder" photo. It is also the photographer who isn't interested in a well composed and lite photo but rather one that simply documents the 'bigger' and "badder" aspect. That's fine as long as it is not the only thing and doesn't drive the athlete to unreasonable risks. One sport I photograph is profession motocross and supercross racing. While there isn't a risk of pushing the athlete too far because they are on a closed and designed race course, I try to produce some photos that are "artistic" rather than just documenting the 75 foot jump triple they fly over.

Ryan Mense's picture

I don't think so. It's inherent in the individual and sport itself. Extreme sports are about pushing yourself on your own terms to do stunts that put you out of your comfort zone a little bit for a rush.

I think what this is arguing is that social media is widening the gap between comfort zone and stunt to be noticed, but from my experience nothing is really different. There's always been people involved with the sports that have a much wider gap in things they attempt than others.

Extreme sports are generally not about proving yourself to others, they are about proving to yourself you were capable of these things.

If a daredevil jumps a 500 foot cliff on a flaming rocket powered skateboard juggling 10 chainsaws chewing on Tide pods and no one is there to tweet, f-book, youtube or photograph it... did it even happen? Because if so I totally did that last week... what a rush and totally worth it because now I know I'm capable of these things. Yea. That's why they do it.

Ryan Mense's picture

At its core, yes. That's generally why.

This is definitly the product of the online popularity contest. Exactly right to say that you always have to one up the next one. Social media connecting everyone has its downsides like comparing yourself to other people more and more. Its just the extreme sports world where the risks are most extreme and deadly. I think social media like Facebook and Youtube is a place where people continue to show off and one up eachother, because thats what its made for, but I think theres another movement of private places like Select. http://select-2nx.launchrock.com/ Theyre starting to give the social media experience in a less-popularity-contest way. Which could be a nice reality check if your life depends on it

Josh Bender was going for 60ft drops in the late 90's. Pretty sure that was before Instagram.

Andy Day's picture

A lot of people were doing a lot of things before social media. This is about general trends that are affecting statistics, not individuals.

As Ryan said above, the nature of extreme sports is that they are, unsurprisingly, extreme.
They are about pushing the envelope and athletes would be trying to go bigger, further, faster and harder, regardless of whether or not people are watching.
The progression of any given sport in that field will lead to injuries in dips and troughs. Take the backflip in FMX for example, so many people injuring themselves trying, then it gets figured out and now people are pulling off doubles mid run.

Andy Day's picture

Of course. This is just the opinion of someone who has been working in the outdoor and adventure sports industry for more than 20 years, hinted at by statistics, and supported by information from ER doctors. I'd need a bit more than "Yeah, but I know someone who did something extreme a long time ago" to make me question the validity of Peruzzi's argument.

Of course.
I'm not trying to invalidate his opinion, just saying that more of what he's writing about is the progression mindset:

"In nearly all these tragedies, some element of the progession mindset played a role. Elite athletes and adventurers charging, pushing the limits of their skills, the snowpack, or the mountains, and suddenly running out of room for error. Since the 1980s, avalanche forecasters have known that the more avalanche knowledge a backcountry user acquires, the more they believe that they can “manage” the snowpack. The dynamic is known as negative event feedback—the more events you survive, the more invincible you think you are. But avalanches don’t work that way, which, beyond the exposure, is perhaps why avalanche forecasters die in avalanches at higher rates than citizen backcountry skiers. Counterintuitively, skill—progression—only increases risk."

He touches on the social media aspect of things far less than he does the idea of people just pushing things too far in the name of progression, the title is "Stop the Progression Already" after all.

The somewhat anti social media rhetoric isn't as important to his article as this article's headline makes it out to be.

Andy Day's picture

Fair point! :)