Tom Ricks and Jim Gourley vs. the Truth

Jim Gourley, author of "CrossFit: An Update."

Jim Gourley has repeatedly refused to correct his work. Image via:

Two weeks ago Jim Gourley published “The relationship between the U.S. military and the CrossFit program” to Tom Ricks’ “Best Defense” blog housed on I sent Gourley and Ricks several emails to correct the article. When they failed to fix their errors, I wrote “Fiasco: Tom Ricks Casually Disregards the Truth about CrossFit.”

Now, Ricks and Gourley’s coverage of CrossFit has gotten even worse. On December 22, the duo published “CrossFit: An Update.” What follows is a full rebuttal of its lines, top to bottom:

Tom: A guy apparently with CrossFit wrote in complaining about this item, alleging an inaccuracy. So I asked the author of the item, Jim Gourley, about it. He responds:

A Google search would show that I’m an employee of CrossFit. Yet, Ricks implies that my affiliation with CrossFit is uncertain. Did he not take the time to verify my credentials? Or did he verify my background, yet decide to fabricate doubt about it?

Personnel from CrossFit headquarters contacted Foreign Policy to challenge the statement that the USUHS paper reflected a negative outlook on CrossFit from the Army.

This is not what I challenged. I challenged Gourley’s statement that,

The Army has perhaps given high intensity workouts the coolest reception, calling them “extreme conditioning programs” (ECPs) in a 2011 paper written in conjunction with the American College of Sports Medicine.

Gourley stated that the Army co-wrote a paper in 2011 with the ACSM, that created the pejorative term “extreme conditioning program” to refer to CrossFit. This is false.

In fact, the 2011 ACSM paper that introduced the “Extreme Conditioning Program” pejorative was the “Consortium for Health and Military Performance and American College of Sports Medicine Consensus Paper on Extreme Conditioning Programs in Military Personnel.”

The Army did not co-write that paper, neither officially nor by representation. Is Gourley intentionally misrepresenting my concern with his article, or does he fail to understand it himself?

A background review of the paper’s authors found that there was one civilian employee from the Air Force and Navy, respectively, one civilian USUHS instructor, an Army Colonel teaching at USUHS, and two other Army civilian employees. The Marines did not send a representative.

As I noted in my previous post, the CHAMP editorial directly contradicts Gourley’s attempt to link it to any official policy or organization:

The opinions and assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors and are not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S., Marines, U.S. Coast Guard, or the Department of Defense.

Had a civilian Marine Corps employee, or a Marine, contributed to the CHAMP editorial, he still would not have been an official “representative” of the Marine Corps.

The CHAMP editorial’s writers included one Army Colonel, Francis O’Connor, who expressed his “private views,” and did not represent the Army as an institution. Gourley continued,

It is therefore more accurate to say that all other services have given extreme conditioning programs a cooler reception than the Marines.

Rather than correcting his error, Gourley has compounded it. In his first article, he claimed that the Army produced the CHAMP paper with the ACSM. Now Gourley is implying that the CHAMP paper’s positions on “extreme conditioning programs” represent “all other services.”

How could a paper that explicitly denies it represents any one military service, in fact represent several of them? Gourley does not attempt to untangle this contradiction. Instead, he wraps up his “update,” saying,

Because the Army contributed the majority of the paper’s authors and published papers of similar negative outlook in the Army Medical Department Journal, it is my assessment that it is the organization that has taken the most pessimistic outlook on ‘extreme conditioning programs,’ which include, but are not limited to, CrossFit.

Gourley’s final allegations are also false. The Army did not contribute the majority of the paper’s authors. The CHAMP editorial had 9 authors, not merely the 6 that Gourley alleged. Of those, a minority (3 out of 9) worked for the Army, not a majority.

In contrast, 7 of CHAMP’s 9 authors were ACSM fellows. If we apply Gourley’s own logic and conclude that a majority presence in the author group indicates an organization’s position, the CHAMP paper can only represent the ACSM. If Gourley would like to present the CHAMP “Extreme Conditioning Program” editorial as representing the views and interests of the ACSM, we would not object.

The CHAMP editorial on "extreme conditioning programs" represents the personal opinions of people like ACSM Fellow Patricia Deuster. Image via:

The CHAMP editorial represents the personal views of its authors, such as ACSM Fellow Patricia Deuster. Image via:

Gourley would do better to follow the old journalistic adage “follow the money,” observe Gatorade’s dominant sponsorship of the ACSM, and wonder if the CHAMP piece might represent Gatorade’s interests as well. Indeed, the CHAMP paper’s corresponding author Michael Bergeron writes advertisements for Gatorade.

Lastly, Gourley mistakenly cited the Army Medical Department Journal’s published papers on “Extreme Conditioning Programs” as indicative of the Army’s overall outlook. It is true that the Army Medical Department Journal has published studies and articles mentioning CrossFit. For example, the October-December 2013 issue published “Extreme Conditioning Programs and Injury Risk in a US Army Brigade Combat Team.”

This study’s results contradicted the previous CHAMP op-ed. It found that soldiers who performed “extreme conditioning programs” were injured at nearly exactly the same rate as soldiers completing traditional physical training. In the Brigade study’s words, “Soldiers participating in ATAC/ECPs showed similar changes in injury rates compared to Soldiers not participating in ATAC/ECPs.”

However, the United States Army Medical Department Journal also explicitly disavows Gourley’s claim that its content represents Army policy. Perhaps Gourley didn’t read this disclaimer,

Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect official policies or positions of the Department of the Army, Department of the Navy, Department of the Air Force, Department of Defense, nor any other agency *of the US Government.

To conclude, Gourley alleges that one colonel and two Army civilian employees represent
the Army. Then what are we to conclude from the fact that the Army is CrossFit’s single largest client? Does Gourley think that one ACSM op-ed piece outweighs the thousands of US Army soldiers whose units send them to CrossFit L1 seminars? The Army’s CrossFit supporters outrank and outnumber the CHAMP editorial’s three Army employees.

The personal views of three ACSM fellows cannot and do not represent the Army. Gourley and Ricks have willingly perpetuated a lie.

Lieutenant General Robert Abrams presents President Barack Obama to the Third Infantry Division. Abrams has used CrossFit to transform his soldiers' approach to PT.

Lieutenant General Robert Abrams presents President Barack Obama to the Third Infantry Division. Abrams has used CrossFit to transform his soldiers’ approach to PT. Image via:

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