Every day, I get to speak to people, brands, the media– and tell them about how incredible the Tough Mudder community is. For 10 years, what has differentiated Tough Mudder from everyone else is the same foundation of what we were built on– that teamwork is more important than winning, that courage is better than speed, and that leaving no Mudder behind is a mandate, not a buzz-phrase.
Finding the words to describe the commitment and engagement of the Tough Mudder community is not easy– you have to see it and experience it to really understand it. It’s maybe best represented by the 20,000 of you sporting a Tough Mudder tattoo on your body, those that have dedicated rooms in your homes with ornate displays of headbands, or the numerous groups who gather regularly to run, train, party and support each other like a family.
As we’ve told the Tough Mudder story over the years, the term “tribe” has often found its way into the vernacular in an effort to characterise the loyalty and camaraderie of our global following. It was in the title of our founder’s book, “It Takes a Tribe” and interwoven into how we referred to ourselves across content channels. We weren’t alone in that– Google the term “tribe + marketing” and see the multitude of results about tribal marketing, targeting tribes, consumer tribes & their behaviour, etc.
I do monthly livestreams with our ambassadors– a chance for us to share brand and product updates, get live time feedback, and spend quality time engaging with the community. In a recent livestream, I was describing a new community platform we’re building (more to come on that later), that at the time we were planning to call TRIBES. Well-intentioned, and a way for us to give a bigger voice and presence to all of the micro groups that exist within our larger global community.
One of our ambassadors reached out to me afterward, and quite politely encouraged us to do some research on the the history behind the word “tribe,” and reconsider using it in our products and marketing. What that one suggestion launched was exactly the type of learning, growth and change that we want to be able to achieve.
For those unfamiliar, as many of our team were, use of “tribes” dates back to the European colonisation of Africa, crafting stereotypes to marginalise African cultures and depict them as uncivilised and savage. The negative connotations carry over into the US, where a long history of violence and marginalisation of indigenous peoples is still very much apparent today. Government bureaucratic systems refer to “tribes” of native and indigenous groups for official recognition, where many choose to maintain their identity as a “nation,” befitting of the unique culture, independence and respect that it commands. If you’d like to further educate yourself, I encourage you to read this helpful reference guide from tolerance.org.
The last several weeks have seen a rapid awakening of many in the sports world looking at their portrayal, appropriation and reference to indigenous cultures. The Dirty Kanza gravel bike race is getting a new name, as are Ocoee Bikes and the Washington NFL franchise. Over the past few weeks, we’ve worked diligently to scrub our marketing and channels, and eliminate “tribes” from our vocabulary moving forward. While our past use of “tribe” was never intended to offend or marginalise, we now recognise the painful history behind it and how uninformed we were about the origins and connotations of the term.
As we committed earlier in June, we’ve embarked on a thorough review, learning and listening process that will be an ongoing and permanent part of our commitment to our community. The next iteration of that is a new set of community guidelines. Creating safe spaces for people of all backgrounds, races, origins, orientations, religions and abilities to push their physical and mental boundaries is a mandatory for us– and for the first time, we’ve taken to putting in writing the behaviour and respect we expect from our participants, partners, volunteers and team, and what you can in turn expect from us.
These new community guidelines will become a part of our registration process, volunteer training, staff hiring, and the selection of the brands we partner with. And to ensure they’re not just words– we’re simultaneously building the mechanisms to address concerns swiftly when speech or actions that don’t fit within these guidelines is identified at our live events, virtual challenges or within our digital communities.
This is just the beginning, and we have much further work to do. A personal, heartfelt thank you to all of those who have written to me over the last few months to share your thoughts, feedback and criticisms of how we’re doing and where we can be better. I’m always happy to hear from our community– please drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chief Executive Officer