Fans Circulate Petition to Let Shawn Rhoden Compete

by Christian Duque

Fans from all over the world are rallying together behind a simple, respectful, and hopefully effective petition, aimed squarely at asking Weider/AMI to please reconsider its decision banning 2018 Mr. Olmypia Shawn “Flexatron” Rhoden from the 2019 Olympia. When I signed the document, there were about 300 signatures, this morning, there’s well over 11,000.

Although the Mr. Olympia is a privately-owned event, run on its own, the fans believe that if their collective voice is strong enough, those who run the event may at least take their will into consideration. Petitions, themselves, are just that, they’re persuasive, at best, and oftentimes fall on deaf ears. That being said, the Mr. Olympia is the greatest event in the sport of bodybuilding and banning a defending champion would be a first-ever in history. In addition to giving into the fans or not, I’d imagine there’s a concern for the legacy of the event. Furthermore, the fact that Shawn plead not guilty and has asserted, through his attorneys, his innocence, makes, what could have been, a hasty decision to exclude him from competition seem quite harsh from a public relations standpoint. Whereas governments don’t take things like PR much into account, an event such as this, banks on it. Therein lies another battle, between PR and what’s PC. To score PR points, the event could go back on its earlier decision and allow Shawn to compete; however, if their goal was political correctness, they might doubledown on their, arguably, harsh haste and dig themselves in. Ultimately, I hope that there is some middle ground, and I think this petition will have a place in that process, provided it breaks 50k, 100k, or even more signatures. If the petition were to break 250k, for example, I would be shocked if the fans were totally ignored. I can tell you who wouldn’t ignore them at the point – the same press that basically prematurely past judgment on Rhoden. So what did signing the document mean for me? Do I think Shawn will get to compete? Will I attend the Olympia?

I think the first question is incredibly important. It’s important that I explain why I signed because I think it would be very easy for folks to assume, otherwise. For starters, I believe in due process. I believe in the presumption of innocence. I believe that it’s the government’s burden to prove a defendant’s guilt, not a defendant’s job to prove his/her innocence. I know Shawn pretty well and consider him a friend. I met the alleged victim once, did an interview with her, and I think she seemed like a very nice person. I don’t know anything about the case, I don’t think my personal feelings matter, and I think the best thing to do is let the legal process play out. I think that signing the petition means you, simply, believe that Shawn Rhoden should be allowed to compete, to defend his title, and potentially win a second Sandow. That being said, some might say, could you imagine a guilty man winning the most important contest in bodybuilding? To that, I’d reply with, can you imagine forcing an innocent man to sit out the most important contest in the sport he loves, a sport he’s dedicated his whole life to, and a sport that’s followed by millions of adherents all over the world?

I don’t think AMI should put itself in this awkward position – it isn’t necessary. I also think there’s room for some middle ground. I hope there are negotiations, at least on some level, being had. In a negotiation, neither side gets 100% of what they want, but if there’s room for compromise, then I think those options should at least be explored.

In addition to the will of the fans, many (if not all) of Shawn’s fellow competitors would like to see him compete. I also would like to reiterate, yet again, that I believe the official statement by our President, Mr. Jim Manion, was spot on! This is the type of statement I would have liked seeing AMI make, but what’s done is done; there’s still plenty of time to reassess things. Again, the decision to let Shawn compete would not equate to the event siding with him on his legal proceedings – that may seem like an obvious point, but it’s still important to stress. Similarly, signing this petition, does not mean you think the man is guilty or not, it simply means you’d like for him to have the opportunity to compete.

With regards to whether Shawn will compete or not, I have a feeling he’ll take part in the competition. At this point in time, if I had to give percentages, I’d say there’s 55% he’ll get on stage, in my opinion. That’s not a great feeling, but it’s far better than when the news initially broke and went viral. Many factors have ameliorated the initial blow, from the fact Shawn hired Rick Collins as co-counsel, to the fact his bond was reduced by 66%, to the major fact he pled not guilty and will fight the case. He’s also been very good about avoiding the press, respecting the court, and listening to his legal team. Shawn has never been loud, crazy, or insensitive to the feelings of others. This is yet another reason why I think AMI should at least consider working with Rhoden’s attorneys. I think a sensible compromise, ironed out through good faith negotiations, should at least be considered.

With regards to the Olympia, I will most definitely be there, and absolutely honored to cover it. If you love bodybuilding with all your heart, you have got to get to at least one of these contests. I’m very happy to say, this is the first year I’ll attend. I am so proud of my friend Dan Solomon and all the many, many, great things he’s done for the contest in such a short amount of time. Dan took an already amazing event and made it even better. He’s a rockstar and someone – all of us in media – look to as a role model. I love the guy; we all do!

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