On Friday, June 5, I was at a park with my family when one of my CrossFit gym members sent a link in a group Facebook message. It was to a post from another box owner, Alyssa Royse, calling out CrossFit HQ’s silence surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. It also included the response to her concerns she received from CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman in which he called her “delusional,” among other things.
I was disgusted. I didn’t want our members to see Glassman’s email and wonder where we stood on it. Earlier in the week, we’d already started to hear people speaking up about CrossFit HQ’s silence and their lack of a stance on Black Lives Matter, so I knew I had to get home and start drafting something to our community.
My husband and I co-founded Intrepid Athletics in Portland, Oregon, 10 years ago, and today it has about 75 members who are more like family. My statement to them started out as a list of feelings and emotions, but as I was writing the email, I realized that we had to leave CrossFit. This was it. There was no reason for us to pay the $2,000 annual affiliation fee we owed on July 1.
I sent out the email announcing that we were cutting ties with the company and posted it on Instagram that same day. Then, I posted the letter we wrote to CrossFit HQ in a story.
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The next day, Glassman tweeted a joke about George Floyd’s death and the novel coronavirus outbreak, and just a few hours before he did that, he got on a Zoom call with a small group of CrossFit gym owners and told them: “We’re not mourning for George Floyd. Can you tell me why I should mourn for him? Other than that it’s the white thing to do?” according to a recording of the call provided to Buzzfeed News, by one of the owners on it.
The backlash was swift. Hundreds of gym owners and Reebok cut ties with the brand, and CrossFit released a public statement on June 9 calling Glassman’s statements “incredibly insensitive and hurtful,” saying their team is anti-racist, and apologizing because they “failed catastrophically by not effectively communicating care for the Black community” sooner. The same day, Glassman resigned as CEO.
So far, all of our member’s responses to our decision to leave have been very positive. Not everyone’s responded, but that’s common—not everyone always responds to emails. We’ve only received one message asking for a refund for memberships as a result of our stance, which was unfortunate.
Aside from informing HQ that we were disaffiliated, the only other things we had to do were remove the word “CrossFit” from any of our signage and our website. Our name was already Intrepid Athletics, so we didn’t have to go as far as rebranding ourselves.
So, we removed the word “CrossFit” from our schedule and spray painted over a banner. A former member, very much still a part of our community, offered $500 toward a new banner, which was so touching.
Nothing else changes. The equipment and workouts and coaches are all the same. We’re coaching the way we’re coaching. We focus on sustainable movements and injury prevention for all our members.
Over the course of this last week, there have been a number of workouts where everyone signed on and just sat there to have conversations. You could see everyone’s faces looked really heavy. They’re working through stuff, trying to do the work, they’re unpacking things. Our gym is predominantly white, and I’m an Asian American, and we’ve reaped the benefits of privilege.
One member shared that she felt personally responsible for some of the pain being experienced by the Black community, and that she didn’t know what to do about it other than sit there for a little while. I shared my experiences as a former police officer and how our training left us very ill-equipped to interact with minority communities.
I hope that these types of talks continue as things open up and we can get back together in the gym. I’ve also been connecting with other gyms over Instagram. Elisabeth Akinwale, Marcus Taylor at Petworth Fitness, and other well-known Black fitness coaches in the community are leading the way right now. Both Akinwale and Taylor have shared resources and videos talking about racism and CrossFit. They’ve also encouraged others to keep up the momentum.
It’s so important that their voices and the voices of Black fitness and wellness coaches are heard regarding how we can enact change in the fitness industry and within the CrossFit model of community and membership. The biggest message is disaffiliation is not enough. It’s just the beginning, and I’m educating myself to create the diverse, equitable, inclusive gym we want it to be.
I think the biggest thing that I learned is the need to educate myself in how to proceed and that being an ally is not something I have the right to just jump into.
I think it’s important for other CrossFit gyms to know it’s okay to leave the fold. The word CrossFit doesn’t define who we are as a community.
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