We Need To Do Something About Gym Leader Nepotism

Being a Pokemon Gym Leader isn’t as glamorous as it might seem at first. There is very little job security, since they get fired if they ever lose three battles in a row. They receive meager salaries, if any at all, and it’s likely they’re financially responsible for maintaining their gyms – some may even turn to illegal Pokemon labor to make ends meet. It’s also a lonely profession, considering only three Gym leaders are married.

Still, leading a Pokemon Gym is a prestigious and well-respected position in society. Even the most feeble Bug or Normal-type Gym Leader is admired in their community. Gyms bring tourism and acclaim to their cities, so Gym leaders are treated like celebrities. It may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but being a Gym Leader is a highly coveted role, which is why I’m disappointed to see how profound the problem of nepotism is in this industry. It’s time we addressed the unfair hiring practices in the Pokemon League and demand some accountability, once and for all.

Nepotism runs rampant in almost every region where the Pokemon League is established. If a Gym Leader has a child, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll one day take over for their parents and lead the gym, regardless of qualifications. We have fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, grandfathers and granddaughters, and even cousins passing around the gym leader title like it’s a football at a Fourth of July family barbecue. It’s yet another example of the ways that powerful people exploit the system to maintain control, and it has to stop.

It’s not entirely surprising that the children of Gym Leaders would turn out to be good Gym Leaders themselves – it’s the environment they were raised in, after all. The problem is that very few of them are actually qualified for the positions they inherit. Look at Falkner as one example. Falker leads the Violet City Gym, which he took over after his father retired. He uses all of his father’s Pokemon, which, for the record, are terrible. He has a Level 7 Pidgey and an illegal Level 9 Pidgeotto and… that’s it. I ask you, what about Falkner makes him qualified to lead a gym? Unless he’s literally the only person that wants the job, I have to assume Violet City could do better.

This is what we find with almost every nepotism case. Lavaridge Town Gym Leader Flannery’s grandfather was once a member of the Elite Four and a respected Gym Leader, but Flannery herself doesn’t seem to have any qualifications whatsoever. In both the games and the anime, she is depicted as inexperienced. On the show, Ash actually comments that he’s surprised how unprofessional Flannery is when she loses the Heat Badges and needs her grandfather to come help her find them. He also has to act as the Gym’s referee because Flannery forgot to hire one.

There’s plenty of other stories of nepotism in the Pokemon League. Janine and Koga and Roark and Byron both tell the same story of undeserved positions of power foisted upon the offspring of more accomplished family members. It’s unfair to the trainers that aspire to be Gym Leaders but don’t have those kinds of connections.

Black & White 2’s Cheren is a great example of what life is like for the other half. Throughout Black & White, Cheren works hard and develops into a pretty formidable rival. With an impressive team of strong Pokemon, including Gigalith and Haxorus, Cheren makes it all the way through the Elite Four and challenges Champion Alder. In Black & White 2, we see that all of Cheren’s effort is rewarded with a position at the worst gym in the region. Cheren gives up his powerful team of Pokemon to fight losing battles with a Patrat and a Lillipup. Even after earning his position as a Gym Leader Cheren is still forced to put in his dues and work his way up. Meanwhile, any randon son or daughter of a Gym Leader can just claim control of the gym without any prior experience. When Cheren someday works his way up to the Elite Four and has a child of his own, you better believe he’s going to hand that kid a high profile gym on a silver platter.

There are very few situations where it would be appropriate for a Gym Leader to pass their title down to a family member. If the Gym is in a rural town and no one wants to move there, I can understand the need to keep it in the family. I would also give Clair and Lance a pass, since there’s every indication that both cousins are highly competent trainers. In all other cases, there’s no reason someone's kids should automatically get the job. It delegitimizes the Pokemon League, and it disenfranchises skilled, hard working trainers across the world.

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