“Stupid, stupid, stupid article. Shut the fuck up and talk about snowboarding.”
Whenever we publish articles of a political nature, whether they discuss climate change or issues of inequality or diversity in the outdoor sports industry, they’re often met with responses like the one above. The feeling tends to be that snowboarding should remain a politically free space and that the problems discussed either don’t exist or that they are not the fault of our industry and, therefore, should be tackled outside of this sphere.
“Whatever stance we take on an issue – whether actively opposing it, upholding it, or remaining silent on it – has a direct impact on the world around us”
To suggest that a snowboard magazine must stay in its lane and stick to talking about snowboarding is impossible. Everything is political. Just saying that politics has no place in snowboarding is, by its nature, a political statement. Whatever stance we take on an issue – whether actively opposing it, upholding it, or remaining silent on it – has a direct impact on the world around us.
Though neither brand has (at the time of writing) made official statements regarding the reasons why, it is widely understood it came in response to Müller using his social media platform to promote extremely toxic, controversial conspiracy theories. Most recently, Müller posted a link which insinuated George Floyd’s death, at the hands of police brutality, was somehow a “staged event” engineered by the Black Lives Matter movement.
There has been a substantial response from the media and wider industry since then. Matt Barr’s Looking Sideways Podcast spoke at length with Phil Young on issues surrounding racism in the outdoor sports industry and shared his personal thoughts on Nicolas Müller’s actions. Snowboarder Mag’s Stan Leveille put out a Last Resort video focussed on the issue. Pleasure Mag penned their own thoughts on Nicolas, too.
Firstly, we’re not here to deconstruct or challenge these conspiracy theories. To do so would acknowledge their legitimacy, give them a wider platform, and sensationalise dangerous rhetoric which would only distract from the more important issue at the heart of this.
Secondly, we fundamentally support the decisions of the brands to drop Nicolas from their teams. For those who argued they were restricting his freedom of speech, that is simply not true. Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from consequence.
“Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from consequence”
Professional athletes are, on some level, walking billboards for the brands, expected to embody the core values of their sponsors. ThirtyTwo and Gnu were both right to de-platform Müller on their channels. To have done otherwise would not only show complicity towards the toxic content he promoted, but also send out a very dangerous message that the snowboard industry was not a safe or tolerant space on issues of racial, religious and social equality.
Lastly, we have absolutely no intention of going in two-footed on Müller or making him a scapegoat for the wider issues of inequality facing our industry. There have been numerous comments from the media, fans and riders on his own mental wellbeing and we genuinely hope that he is okay and has supportive friends and family around him. Nicolas Müller remains one of the most influential and iconic riders of all time. That hasn’t changed. Nor should it. But that doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to what has happened.
“Nicolas Müller remains one of the most influential and iconic riders of all time. That hasn’t changed. Nor should it. But that doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to what has happened.”
What’s interesting about the news surrounding Müller is the way it galvanised the entire industry in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests. Just one week earlier, social media was saturated with an outpouring of support, solidarity and promises of change to come from brands, riders, media and the broader snowboard community. Black squares were posted, accompanied by statements committing to ask difficult questions, take positive action, listen, and work towards a common goal of uprooting and actively challenging racism in the industry.
And then, one of snowboarding’s most iconic figures posted content that brought the crux of the movement right into the headlights of the entire snowboarding community. Everyone was confronted with a decision to make: call out and condemn the content, remain silent, or come to Müller’s defence.
“Now is the time for all of us to question – and challenge – inequalities that exist in snowboarding and prejudices that we unconsciously uphold.”
Nicolas’s post was a symptom of a societal problem, not the problem itself. He is not the reason snowboarding is predominantly a white man’s game nor is he responsible for the inherent racist structures that permeate through so much of this industry and the wider world. But now is the time for all of us to question – and challenge – the way in which the outdoor sports community has inadvertently upheld these deep-rooted systems of inequality.
Rather than to endlessly debate the actions of one individual or a handful of brands, it would be more constructive to look at how the industry is currently responding to the wider issues faced.
Industry giants Patagonia and The North Face both announced they have joined the Stop Hate For Profit Campaign, pulling their ads from both Instagram and Facebook. Corey Bayers, Patagonia’s Head of Marketing, tweeted “We stand with #StopHateForProfit in saying ‘Facebook’s profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism, and violence.’” The North Face have also pledged to donate $50,000 to the ACLU, $25,000 to Outdoor Afro, and $25,000 to PGM ONE.
The cogs appear to be slowly turning into action and, though we’re a long way from the finish line, it’s an encouraging step in the right direction from brands of all sizes throughout the snowboarding industry.
But the responsibility of brands and athletes is only a small part of the bigger picture. Everyone who participates in the outdoors has a role to play here.
“Whitelines will continue to bring gear reviews, exclusive riding content, and stories from across the world of snowboarding, but we will also continue to push for equality, diversity and sustainability.”
To not actively speak up for racial equality is like choosing immobility as a mode of transport – we are not contributing anything to the greater welfare of ourselves, our community, or our planet. Further, you are actively hurting these things by supporting and propping up the status quo.
As Phil Young pointed out so well in his article mentioned at the beginning of this feature, a willingness to make the outdoors a more racially inclusive place should be a priority for anyone who cares about the environment, climate change, and saving our natural spaces from ruin. On top of this, there is the simple issue of what is just.
“Everyone who participates in the outdoors has a role to play here.”
For genuine change to happen, we must all set aside our own unique individualism and not allow these aspects to excuse us from playing a complicit role in the system. As Robin Diangelo explains in her book, White Fragility:
“While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can occur simply through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them. Nor will I be motivated to remove the barriers if they provide an advantage to which I feel entitled.”
Snowboarding is our passion. It has shaped and defined the lives of many of our readers. Anyone who has strapped in at the top of a backcountry peak, spent sunny spring laps in the park with friends, or just enjoyed reconnecting with the landscape around them surely accepts that to snowboard is a privilege.
Let’s all take a stand and strive to change things for the better. Let’s understand that, while we have not actively sought to create the inequalities and barriers in our industry, we can now actively work to break them down.
Whitelines will continue to bring gear reviews, exclusive riding content, and stories from across the world of snowboarding, but we will also continue to push for equality, diversity and sustainability. We’ll champion the brands, organisations, and charities who seek to make snowboarding inclusive and we’ll share snowboarding content that is more reflective of all those who participate in it.
We all have a long road ahead. We’ll make mistakes and we’ll ask questions along the way. But we’ll continue to work, we’ll continue to do better, and we’ll continue to advocate for change.
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