SNEWS Editorial: Industry needs to avoid finger-pointing, witch-hunting in treadmill tragedy

In the hours and days after Mike Tyson’s 4-year-old died tragically on May 26 by strangling on a cord hanging off a home treadmill, the industry seems to have decided that a frenzy of finger-pointing and witch-hunting is the best response. Not only does this need to stop … now … the industry needs instead to use this accident as an impetus to band together and to educate the public.
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In the hours and days after Mike Tyson’s 4-year-old died tragically on May 26 by strangling on a cord hanging off a home treadmill, the industry seems to have decided that a frenzy of finger-pointing and witch-hunting is the best response.

Not only does this need to stop … now … the industry needs instead to use this accident as an impetus to band together and to educate the public about quality equipment, appropriate use and safety standards. It doesn’t matter whose machine it was. A child died on a treadmill. That singular fact affects everyone that sells treadmills unless we -- and by “we” SNEWS® means the collective fitness industry -- stand together to mourn a tragic loss, and find ways to ensure this kind of thing cannot happen again.

>> Forget finger-pointing. It does not matter what brand the treadmill in question was. It could have frankly happened on any brand. It was a fluke, a terribly tragic accident that could have occurred with any piece of equipment not appropriately locked-down to protect against curious kids. Any witch-hunting-like behavior is way below the industry. Let’s show we are more mature than that and work together to arrive at a solution that helps the industry.

>> Although over the years the equipment has become safer and safer, stuff happens. Every manufacturer and every retailer should waste no time rethinking what they are doing for safety and -- before government watchdogs come marching in -- find alternative methods that will ensure curious children are kept out of harm’s way.

Manym if not most, manufacturers of commercial models have moved to using safety lanyards that with a tug simply turn off the machine and don’t actually disconnect (to keep the lanyards from disappearing in commercial settings). That’s fine and good, but there should be an option – a quick substitution that can be made by the retailer, for example – to provide a detachable lanyard when one of these models is purchased for a home setting with kids. How hard could this be?

Kid-safe settings that render a machine disabled, which are of course already on some equipment, should be standard fare (not just treadmills of course and not even just on cardio equipment) so button-pushing by kids’ curious fingers does nothing and weight stacks go nowhere. Before the Consumer Product Safety Commission or another government agency requires all kinds of hoop-jumping, all suppliers should make sure they are doing everything possible. And then, once they are sure they are, make sure the appropriate agencies know about it.

>> Retailers should make it a mandatory part of the qualifying part of every sale to find out if kids may be around the machinery, either if they live there or just visit. If yes, the retailers should not waste a moment in directing the potential customer to equipment that has needed safety devices, explaining carefully the differences.

>> As we said in our SNEWS View on our May 27, 2009, story (Click here to read that story, “Tyson's toddler's treadmill death sparks debate: Was it the safety lanyard? Are changes coming?”) retailers and manufacturers should waste no time making themselves available to local and regional media as experts. Now, here’s the catch: Your goal as an expert for media is not to promote the brand you sell or make, or to take a shot, either subtly or overtly, at another brand you don’t sell or make. Step away from that right now. The point is two-fold: to help the public understand that treadmills that are properly used, maintained and stored are safe, and to do your part in damage control for the industry as a whole. You know, float all boats higher and all that. Shame on any manufacturer or retailer who uses this incident as a platform to promote what they sell or make, OR – and this is just as bad – to find a way with it to take a knock at competitors.

>> SNEWS® believes firmly this is one more reason the fitness industry needs a national association that stands for fitness in general and no brand in particular. An association, as we wrote about and promoted in 2008 (Click here to see an Aug. 13, 2008, story, “Health & Fitness Business '08: SNEWS Fitness Forum highlights pros of industry collaborative groups," and click here to see a March 8, 2008, story, “Fitness industry collaboration effort moves forward after first meeting.”) would have kicked its machinery into gear instantaneously. It would have had a spokesperson educated in dealing with media ready without bias and without finger-pointing to answer questions from national and regional journalists to nip the frenzy in the bud. It would have papered newswires with PR about equipment safety and what the industry has already done. That association and a spokesperson would have been savvy enough to turn the opportunity into public education, thwarting spectacular-news-seeking journalists’ queries about how dangerous this stuff is. Individually, we cannot do that. There is simply more power in a united voice and that voice gains vast amounts of credibility with members of the media.

The industry is in this together, and any false or immature move will simply do great damage to everybody in the long run. This is not about “you.” This is about “us.”

Now how about that association? 

--SNEWS® Editors 

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