To the Producers, Creators, and Athletes of American Ninja Warrior,
I realize most open letters are ones of protest or appeal, but I promise you this is anything but that. This open letter is one of thanks. Deep, heart felt, momma-wants-to-give-you-a-huge-hug, thanks. So please keep reading.
Raising children these days is hard. Really, really hard. For every good habit we work hard to instill, there seems to be something on TV that teaches them a bad one. For every pep-talk we give about their value and worth, a magazine ad tells them they need to change. For every lesson on good sportsmanship we offer, an athlete throws a temper tantrum on national television for things not going their way.
When I first turned on American Ninja Warrior last year, I must admit: We were just hoping to be entertained without having to do too much repair work with our kids afterward. Imagine my surprise when the first ninja fell short of his goal, and lept out of the water with a big ol’ grin stretched ear to ear. What a breath of fresh air!
Except it wasn’t just that one athlete. It is every athlete you give air time to. I am sure you get the rare rotten apple, but you don’t give those folks the time of day. And goodness gracious, thank you for that.
My kids are learning how to lose well by watching your show. Their little brains see these strong, committed athletes, with their wet hair glued to their faces showcasing their failure, still choosing to be grateful for the experience rather than humiliated by the loss. They see men and women make a mistake or “fail” an obstacle, only to hear them say, “Wow, that was fun! You’ll see me back next year!” No one quits, no one makes up excuses, and no one storms off the course. Is this real life?!
Speaking of men and women: It’s pretty stinkin’ amazing for my daughter to see Jessie Graff complete obstacles most of the men can’t. I’m not a feminist by a long stretch, but I sure as heck love seeing people defy the odds and come out on top. Not only does my daughter get to see that she can do whatever she puts her mind to with the proper work and determination, but my son gets to see his own role models believe in and cheer for the women competitors, as well! Your show is helping these kids not only to believe in themselves, but also recognize that giftedness and athleticism are not gender-specific.
While we are on the topic of cheering for one another, I would be remiss not to express my gratitude for the admirable sportsmanship that is demonstrated between competitors. Time and time again, it’s the fellow ninjas who are cheering the loudest with each victory and consoling one another after each tough break. Although they are competing against each other for the ultimate title of American Ninja Warrior, they treat each other more like teammates than opponents. If I am being completely honest, they probably treat each other better than most teammates do. My kids are realizing that their biggest rival can still be their best friend, and I imagine this lesson will follow them far beyond their adolescent years. Rumor has it Grant McCartney hopped on a segway after watching his friend Jake Murray take a devastating fall shouting “I’m coming, Jake!!!” That’s friendship if I’ve ever seen it.
Lastly, I want to thank you for creating a whole new sport for kids like my son. Since he was a baby, we’ve found him climbing whatever he can get his hands and feet on. My friends joke around saying, “If you can’t find Noah, just look up!” Until American Ninja Warrior came around, kids like him had very few ways to channel their strengths in a way that allowed them to compete, achieve, and succeed using their skill set. Now, because of the show’s popularity and subsequent ninja gyms popping up, these monkeys have found their fit. Rather than getting yelled at for scaling a wall, they are applauded for their strength and athleticism. They are encouraged to climb higher and swing further. And then, when their time comes to compete in a youth ninja competition, they get to put to practice all the other lessons you have taught them.
So, to the producers and creators of American Ninja Warrior, thank you for bringing this show to our living room. Not only have you brought us entertainment and fun, but you have also allowed us a sneak peek into the lives of some amazing, courageous, respectable athletes. You don’t only place value on winning, but you also place extreme value on the journey each athlete experienced getting to where they are. So many lessons wrapped up into two hours every Monday night.
And to the Ninjas, thank you for being you. Thank you for working hard and for prioritizing friendships and camaraderie over the need to be THE best. Little eyes are watching you, and you are stewarding your gifts better than anyone could ask for. One of these days, I hope my little ones grow up to be just like you.
A Mom of Little Ninjas