Let's Talk About Those Naked Burpees
Y’all, we gotta talk about the naked burpees. “What naked burpees,” you might be asking yourself. The naked burpees during the group WOD at the Affiliate Gathering that was hosted by CrossFit at Whistler last weekend.
It was a gathering of hundreds of people connected to the CrossFit community. Most of whom have owned affiliates for 10+ years. There were also a whole lot of guests (myself included) who are important to the community in a variety of ways, from media to running Sanctional events to consultants. And, of course, staff.
It was an amazing weekend in every way. The passion and vision of CrossFit was on full display and the generosity of HQ would be hard to overstate. It was amazing.
But there was also the naked burpee thing.
As one would expect at a CrossFit gathering, there was a large group workout on Saturday afternoon. It started with a 10 mile walk to a gorgeous lake. (Okay, to be fair, it should have been an easy 2-miles, but we got really lost, which was gorgeous and made for excellent bonding time.) Then, teams of four, many of whom had just met, went in heats through a variety of stations set up on the banks of a gorgeous lake. It was idyllic, really. There were trees and mountains and beaches and some stranger’s sweaty scrotum swinging in the sunshine.
Now, don’t get me wrong; in the abstract, I love every single one of those things, even the much-maligned scrotum. And given the opportunity to joyfully (and consensually) skinny dip in an alpine lake, I’m usually the first one to strip. But that’s not what this was.
As part of the team workout (again, teams of 4, in heats, amounting to hundreds of people who are professionally affiliated), there was the “option” of naked burpees. But it was not a free and easy option. At one of the stations, you had the “option” of 100 burpees. Or 1 burpee, if you did it naked. But the whole team had to agree, so even one hold out, and 100 burpees. Instead of 1.
So, basically, if you don’t want to get naked in front of colleagues who you don’t really know, then you are why your team is doing 100 burpees.
At best, that would be called “coerced consent.” (WHICH IS NOT CONSENT.) But we’ll get back to that.
The excuse, which was printed on the WOD description and cheerfully explained by the attendant coaches on hand, was that this station happened to be Whistler’s “naked dock” so you could get naked if you wanted to. It’s a flimsy cover, however, when you’re being either paid or punished for your nudity or lack thereof.
Because on this day, it wasn’t just Whistler’s naked dock - a place that is known, and where people can expect to be seen naked while seeing other people naked. That’s not what it was on this day. On this day, it was a group workout with strangers and professional colleagues. And your behavior didn’t just impact you, your decisions had an impact on the experience of others. It is not possible to freely consent in such a situation, because there are stakes. It is transactional.
Your decision directly impacts other people, as well as carrying with it the weight of wanting to belong.
This is hazing.
I was shocked that in this day and age, in the midst of the MeToo era, this could even be a thing. Much less a thing in the very organization that I love enough to commit my life to. That I have worked hand in hand with to foster inclusivity and fix some sexist, body-shaming, queer-phobic ways. Indeed, I knew as surely as I know my own name, that the “powers that be” would be both surprised and pissed about this. That was confirmed when I told them about it and they asked, aghast, “whose idea was that?” It was, I now know, programmed by a local affiliate. I'm glad to hear it wasn't HQ that did it.
So let’s assume that this was “innocent,” for a moment. Because unlike many, I do believe that intent matters. Not because intent lessens the impact of the violation, but because it allows you to understand how this happened and design a path forward. Indeed, if a ball goes through a window, it doesn’t matter WHY it did, the glass is still broken and needs to be replaced. But if it was kids carelessly playing ball, that will be handled differently than a hate crime. The impact is the same, but how it gets fixed, and how it gets prevented from repeating depends on the intent.
So, for the sake of solving this one, let’s assume someone just thought they were being funny, cute, free-spirited, whatever. There are still some things that they, whoever they are who wrote and approved of this workout, need
to understand. We all do:
There is no professional situation in which it is okay to expect strangers to get naked with each other without prior consent that such a thing would be happening. (I really can’t believe I just had to say that.)
Coerced consent is NOT consent. When you create a situation where you get a reward for getting naked, that’s not freely-given consent. When you create a situation where you get punished for not getting naked, that’s not freely-given consent. When you create a situation where your team members get punished for you not giving consent, that’s not freely-given consent. (I really can’t believe I just had to say that.)
Not everyone likes to be naked, or be around other naked people. That is not a safe thing, for a whole lot of people for a whole lot of reasons. For that matter, many of us have a history of having been mocked (or worse) in locker rooms. Or been very non-consensually confronted with unwanted nudity and sexual abuse at work, at school, at parties, at….. You cannot thrust people into situations of non-consensual nudity, ever. Especially at work-related things. (I really can’t believe I just had to say that.)
If you wanted to have spontaneous nudity at this event, there are probably ways that it could have been done (though I’d still advise against it, strenuously.)
Warn people before they get there that there might be nudity coming up.
DO NOT LINK IT TO PUNISHMENT AND REWARD. “Hey, this is Whistler’s naked dock, so if you want to go down there to do your burpees naked, feel free, and those who don’t can hang up here and do their burpees. Same number of burpees either way, you do you!”
Make it NOT a team thing. Don’t tie the behavior of one person to the experience of the whole team.
Ask yourself how you’d handle a naked colleague at the office. Oh, ya….. that makes it clear, doesn’t it?
This is cultural. This is people NOT stepping outside their own experiences to ask themselves what things would feel like for someone else. This gets back to the towel-snapping bro culture that was at the heart of CrossFit for so long. That jocular teasing and hazing, and “fuck ‘em if they can’t take it” kinda stuff. What’s shocking to me is that no one spoke up, in all the planning and printing that led to that moment. Well, maybe it’s not shocking, because doing so is what gets one branded “uptight” or “no fun” or “lame” or….. All those things that hundreds of us were faced with when we decided not to strip down in front of hundreds of colleagues.
That’s a horrible thing to do to people.
That’s the very stuff that scares so many people away from CrossFit in the first place. The very stuff that scares so many people away from sports and fitness in general.
The irony here is that I love a good skinny-dip. I’m usually the first person to strip down and dive in a nice alpine lake on a sunny day. I actually prefer nude beaches to clothed ones, because I love being around people who are comfortable with bodies, in all their shapes and sizes, and don’t see them as a spectacle, or a game. Had it been summer, I’d have gone back and sought out that dock to just lay naked in the sun.
But this was wrong. This was manipulative, at best. It was not made better by the cheerful (young, male) trainer at the next stop who, in chatting about the naked dock at Whistler, said “it sucks because it’s usually just old men, and who wants to see that?” Kid, I hope that when you’re old, the person (or people) you love will want to see that.
This never should have happened. Someone knew it was wrong and didn’t feel like they could say anything.
So, how do you prevent this from happening again? This, friends, is why you not only have to have diverse teams who are looking for inclusivity issues, but you have to have an environment that allows alternate viewpoints. You have to have trainings to teach people how to think inclusively. You have someone on your team whose job it is to look this stuff over and make sure it doesn’t happen.
Someone who can and will speak truth to power.
(This is, literally, what I do. Reach out!)
The day would have been perfect (even) if people hadn’t been coerced into unexpected and non-consensual nudity.
I really can’t believe I just had to say that.