Is CrossFit Charting A New Course?
CrossFit did something big over the holiday weekend. It might not seem big, but it was, because it was a departure from the past and one of the first real signals we’ve seen that something has shifted at HQ.
Sure, ya, I know, we’re not really an affiliate anymore. But we’ve never stopped caring about the underlying issues, and never stopped believing in the power of the brand to change the world. If, that is, they can rise to the occasion of their own potential.
But, backing up…..
Whenever something noteworthy happens in regards to CrossFit, I get a little flood of messages from people saying “did you see this?” Last weekend was no exception. Dave Castro posted an “atta boy” to a gym owner in NY flouting the COVID regulations as he hosted local media in a crowded gym - filled with loads of people, a Gadsden flag and no masks - to watch him tear up a $90,000 fine for operating during a shut down. (Eewwww, David!)
I got a bunch of messages with screen shots of Dave’s Insta, with a “wtf?” (Worth noting, mostly because it’s hysterical, that Dave blocked me from his Insta, so other people send me screen shots on the regular. I’m not sure if it’s funnier that he’s afraid to let me see what he posts, or that he thinks I’d care that he blocked me, or that he thinks blocking me actually prevents me from seeing it. Like, that just isn’t how the internet, or any of this, works.)
Dave is probably the most recognizable face of CrossFit as a company. What he says, for better or worse, reflects on the brand as a whole. It would not be unreasonable for the general public to interpret Dave as speaking for the brand, in the absence of the brand speaking for itself. So basically, this appeared to most of the world as Castro saying that CF doesn’t believe in COVID or precautions to prevent it. Or in following local regulations.
People, rightly, knew I’d be interested because the behavior of that gym owner – which is NOT the behavior of HQ, necessarily – ties into something I said in “that letter” to Brian and Greg in June. That the failure to lead and take the COVID situation seriously was a problem for the brand. I still feel that way. Watching how different gyms are handling it, in the absence of brand leadership, has been, let’s just say “interesting.” More than once I’ve been glad that my business can’t be tied to the behavior of “that guy.”
A day after Dave posted that “atta boy,” a truly reprehensible email surfaced that the gym owner had sent to someone asking for a refund from an event that was cancelled because of COVID. The email contained truly vile racist epithets and was generally the vituperative word-vomit of a vile human being. This is who Dave had given an “atta boy” to, while flouting efforts to lessen the death toll of a global pandemic.
I got a bunch more messages of people saying, one way or another, “can you believe this shit?”
Yes, I could. This is classic “old CrossFit,” and came as no surprise to me because I see it all the time in the larger CF community.
Dave eventually removed his original post. But he never actually addressed any of it. Just deleted it. If he’s hoping it will just go away, that still isn’t how the internet, or any of this, works.
Same Ship, New Captain
I said “old CrossFit” on purpose there, and that REALLY matters to me, so let’s go back in time a bit…
Old CrossFit was very problematic in ways that I have spent far too much of my life talking about. Sexism, racism, moral ambiguity, terrible communication…… you know.
Like many people, I want to believe that Greg’s departure, and the subsequent departure of most of his inner circle, marks a new beginning for the brand. A brand that I have always believed in.
But I also loved old CrossFit. I saw its potential. I had great times with it. I learned so much about myself, about bodies, about inclusivity, about community, about almost everything that matters to me. Because of Greg, and old CrossFit, my life changed, and that rippled out to change hundreds of other lives. That is not lost on me. It is a connection that would be hard to sever, and a gratitude that lives on.
I never thought it was perfect, I saw the problems, but because it was a relationship I valued, I tried everything I possibly could to help create change from within. I was actually quite successful at that, in ways that I know still make some people mad, but make me enormously proud.
If this is starting to sound like a bad relationship, you are right. I put up with so much crap because I believed in love, and there were enough good things that I couldn’t give up. (At least I stopped doing that in my personal life!)
Until….. that letter to me.
For me, that was the final straw, and one that I shared because it felt important. I don't believe that behavior like that should be condoned or covered up.
And that opened the flood gates. Big time. For me, and lots of other people, the good that we personally got out of the relationship was not good enough to justify the vile behavior that we now knew was part and parcel of CrossFit. And the impending flood, the rising tide of reckoning, was massive.
If a rising tide rises all boats, this tide rose on the pain of many people. That pain, and the tide that flowed from it is what enabled the shift that eventually led to a leadership change.
Most of that pain was caused by Greg, and the close circle of people who allowed it to go on. But the change? That is because so many people stood up and asked for it.
When Eric took over, there was reason to hope that change was possible. That there would be a "new CrossFit."
Many affiliates came back immediately, I hope that Eric felt that as a vote of support. I mean it when I say that, because he and his team have a huge task ahead of them to right this ship. They need to know that people believe in them.
Because people have asked me, yes, I have had conversations with Eric and other new leadership of "new CrossFit." I have left every conversation I’ve had with them feeling that these are good people. I like them.
That matters. If you believe someone to be good and trying, there’s hope and every reason to work together. If you believe someone is bad, there’s not.
I believe that if this brand can be saved, these people can probably do it. But it will be work.
Progress, Not Perfect
People also message me every time CrossFit does something good. I see it. I’m happy for everyone. But it also hurts. Like, that person you loved and tried so hard to be with because you saw their potential, but then it became unbearable and you had a painful break-up and THEN they got their shit together, so everyone but you gets to enjoy the rewards of the struggle…. It hurts. But I’m also glad for them. All of them.
I actually used this analogy recently with someone at CrossFit. They get it. The truth is, we’re trying to find a way to get back together, and we all think that we will. The problem, for better or worse, is that I threw down a hell of a gauntlet, and I can’t come back until we see real changes. It would be hypocritical of me.
At the same time, I am not, nor will I ever be, demanding perfection. That just isn’t a thing.
Rocket has never been, and has never believed we were, perfect. We have goals that we aspire to. Sometimes we nail it, sometimes we don’t. As such, we keep striving. We will always be a work in progress.
Just like the sport that brings us together, right? If you nail a perfect lift one day, you don’t then say “well, done with that now, no more lifting for me!” Nope, you nail it, then come back the next day and see what you can do next. Likewise, if you don't nail it the first time, you don't just give up, you keep trying. Either way though, the work itself is the point, because just by virtue of doing it, you make progress.
I look at the changes at CrossFit – and the world actually – in the same way. We’re never done. There’s always more to do. As long as we keep trying, and supporting those who are trying to do better also, we get there together. Progress, not perfect.
I think it is literally the responsibility of people like me to hang in and work for change, because I have the privilege to do it. I have the time, the energy, I can risk my relationship with HQ and be fine. So I can help fight for change. I think that the worst thing that someone with the safety of privilege can do is say “you’re not perfect enough, I give up on you,” or “you’re not doing it the way I would,” and walk away, because that is walking away from both your responsibility and the progress that could be made if we worked together. It also sets you as the standard bearer, which is the kind of narcissistic activism that centers you as savior rather than the work as the purpose.
The eschewing of progress because you aren’t getting exactly what you personally want elevates your opinions and perspectives over and above the larger issues. That’s about self and saviorism, not service.
Which is why I haven’t given up on CrossFit, now that I believe there’s the possibility for change. You can’t lob a bomb and then run away from the reconstruction.
I did not think that Greg was a good person with the courage and vision to change. I walked away from Greg. I do think Eric is a good person with the courage and vision to change. I've been waiting to see that change.
If you had asked me 3 weeks ago, I would have guessed we’d be an affiliate again soon. Then the shit happened with Castro and the NY affiliate owner, and I lost hope.
I was glad I wasn’t connected to any of it.
But that felt sad as hell.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
And there we were again.
We were literally back at the same issues we were facing in June, when I wrote that letter.
Where is the brand leadership on COVID? Where was the brand leadership when a face of the brand posted something that was creepy reminiscent of the dismissive and racist “Floyd 19” Tweet? Where was the communication?
I am sure that I was not alone in feeling like the old lover, watching their ex about to make the same mistakes again, after swearing that this time they’d changed…..
I waited. I watched. And then…….
They not only cancelled the affiliation of the NY gym, they made a statement. And they didn’t just make a statement about the gym, they clarified their position on COVID restrictions. While neither of those moves are, in and of themselves, huge, they are both a huge departure from anything “old CrossFit” would have done.
Quietly cancelling that affiliation would have made a quiet statement about what they DON'T stand for, and that’s something. But it’s not enough. Making a public statement about cancelling their affiliation makes a loud statement about what they DO stand for, and that’s something that allows others to stand alongside them.
But yes, it will also piss some people off.
As I always tell gym-owners when I do workshops, “you can’t make everyone happy.” That’s not possible, so don’t make it a goal. You have to be very intentional about what you stand for, who you stand with, and use that to make decisions about your gym. Err on the side of the future you want to create.
You get to decide who your market is. You get to decide what people and practices you promote.
The same is true of CrossFit, though previously there hasn't been much intention behind it. But if the goal now is one of inclusivity and anti-racism, you have to actively work towards that, because that gym-owner in NY was a shining example of what happens when you just turn a blind eye and say "to each their own." Inaction always sides with the status quo. But action has to be intentional.
In the affirmative, you have to be careful not to tokenize and put the weight of an entire community on the shoulders of one representative from that community - whether it's praise or a complaint. The “my Black friend says….” defense will never work. (Ask Kanye or Ice Cube about that…..)
But in the negative, you can use a single incident to set an example of what you will not tolerate. The gym in NY was exactly that opportunity.
CrossFit actually did that. They said “not you,” to an abusive racist.
Seems obvious, yes. But it’s never happened before. It’s a change.
Any Body, Not Everybody
Crossfit should be for any body, not necessarily everybody. That means that you try to constantly look for the systemic obstacles that are keeping communities of people out, without falling into the trap of thinking that you have to be a place for every single individual.
Like, that guy. CrossFit made very clear that they were not a place where racism would be tolerated. They kicked that guy out.
That begins to remove some obstacles for BIPOC people who might believe that CrossFit isn’t a place for them, because of that guy, and others like him.
More than that, CF quietly dropped a statement about gyms operating against local regulations and refusing to take precautions.
As published in Morning Chalk Up:
According to CrossFit’s Head of Communications & Public Policy, “CrossFit encourages all gym owners to comply with local laws and adopt best practices to protect their members, so we can emerge stronger from this pandemic together.”
“CrossFit strongly believes the best way forward is through engagement with policymakers, education about the importance of fitness to public health, and adhering to best practices established by public health officials. That’s why we are working with affiliate owners across the US and around the world to help them connect with their local elected officials, as well as building support for legislation in the US Congress for up to $30 billion in gym-specific relief.”
That is the opposite of what was happening 7 months ago.
That’s what change looks like. This is what hope feels like.
From here, it looks like they're charting a new course, and might have a captain and crew willing to do the things necessary to get there.