Clif bar drops climbers

Alex Honnold may be one of the most famous faces in climbing, but you won’t see him on Clif Bar’s website anytime soon. Photo by Pete Mortimer

Sports nutrition company Clif Bar severed ties with at least five of its sponsored rock climbers late last week—more specifically, any athlete who free-solo climbs, BASE jumps, or highlines. The athletes' profiles were stripped from the Clif Bar website and a general statement was released saying all other sponsored athletes would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Commence uproar.

Five of the athletes included in the sponsorship dump are Alex Honnold (who's probably the closest thing climbing has to Harry Styles, minus the good hair and general sex appeal), Steph Davis, Timmy O'Neill, Dean Potter, and Cedar Wright. Arguably the most boundary-pushing roster rock climbing has seen in decades, the grouping is known for taking huge risks in the name of the sport.

Which, as you might expect, is a habit that garners both uncomfortable disapproval and a fiercely loyal fandom.

There's no arguing each of these athletes is a certifiable legend of his sport, practicing what many climbers consider the purest forms of climbing (sans rope) and examining new methods of surviving a big fall (like Potter's "free base" wingsuit-clad climbs). They have revolutionized the popularity of the sport due in part to their pursuit of goals that offer a zero percent margin for error. One slip up and they're done. Commenters lamented Clif Bar's decision, saying the move is comparable to "dropping a football player for playing football," and dubbing the company's product as "sugar-packed crap for REI soccer moms" thanks in part to their halted support for such extreme forms of climbing.

Now, Clif Bar has issued an explanation for their controversial decision in a post on their website titled "A Letter to the Climbing Community." Reminding customers that climbing is an integral part of the brand's history, Clif Bar explains that after a heated internal debate, they "no longer feel good about benefitting from the amount of risk certain athletes are taking in areas of the sport where there is no margin for error, where there is no safety net.”

“We concluded that these forms of the sport are pushing boundaries and taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no longer willing to go."

While we respect the decision that couldn't have been easy to make (after all, climbing is experiencing a hug surge in popularity right now and cutting its most influential faces is bound to hurt business), we wonder if punishing athletes for simply pushing the boundaries of their sport is the right decision—especially when you consider Clif Bar was one of the primary sponsors of “Valley Uprising,” a recent documentary about the evolution of climbing and some of its more extreme iterations.

What do you think of Clif Bar's decision?

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