Do Black Lives Matter in the CrossFit Community?

I want to get this right, so I’m going to be reading off the screen.

This video tosses out every interpersonal and professional relationship I’ve tried to build in this industry. It will alienate me. It will outcast WODDITY and the business I’ve built around that brand name for the last two years. Every late night of writing, recording, and editing. It will succumb to and be crushed by the old boys club that is CrossFit and the media teams reporting on it. This video specifically calls out high-level individuals at the pinnacle of our sport and our community. But it would be wrong of me to not say anything.

If you’re not familiar with the George Floyd situation in Minnesota or the subsequent protests around the world, I’m glad you’re here for this conversation. If you want to watch a brief, but graphic, recap of what happened to Floyd, I’ve put a link to a Washington Post video in my show notes that will help you understand what’s going on. 

George Floyd had the police called on him after a shopkeeper suspected he had been given counterfeit currency for a purchase Floyd made. Footage shows officers respond, confronting, then handcuffing him. For a while, views of what transpired are obstructed, but footage from a bystander who started filming shows us a horrific scene: Floyd begging “please, I can’t breathe” while an officer crushed his throat with a knee. While officers called for a medical team, the officer in question kept his knee on Floyd’s throat, even after Floyd appeared to be unconscious. Bystanders try to step in. The knee remains. Paramedics show up. The knee remains. More than eight minutes pass of Floyd being suffocated before the officer in question removes pressure from Floyd’s throat. Floyd is placed in an ambulance and later declared dead.

In February, I ran a diversity special on the WODDITY Podcast. I invited CrossFit – they told me I was gaslighting. I invited prominent members of former media staff. Some agreed to participate, but then disappeared when it came time to contribute. I reached out to more than 30 CrossFit athletes. Some read the invite and didn’t respond. Some responded positively but disappeared when it came time to participate. Some blatantly ignored the request.

WODDITY’s Diversity in CrossFit Special: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3

I reached out to hundreds of CrossFit affiliate owners. In a survey, very few thought the community had a diversity problem. 

This week someone reached out to me about the George Floyd situation and asked if I was going to talk to my community about what was happening. I’m ashamed, because my response was that I no longer thought my community cared about what was happening.

Then John Wooley of the Make WODs Great Again Instagram account posted something. It was a picture with the question “How are the CrossFit Games different than other sports?” And included a picture of a Crest “Noticeably White” toothpaste label.

Wooley’s caption to the post reads, “Very few in the CrossFit space seem to be willing to discuss race and the tragedies that are currently happening so I will. We have a diversity problem and it starts with us using our voice and actions to support our fellow man against injustice. Only then will we have truly created an environment that is welcoming and inclusive of all. Let’s be willing to have the conversation, really listen to outside viewpoints, and most importantly stand against discrimination when we see it.”

One of the top comments on the post is what inspired this video. It was from Talking Elite Fitness host and Morning Chalk Up Contributor Tommy Marquez. Tommy wrote that he made sure to often discuss racial issues. Well, unfortunately, Marquez was on the list of media members I invited. He accepted, then disappeared. Rick Stephens. Sports photographer. Accepted, then disappeared. EZ Muhammad, CrossFit Games athlete. Accepted, then disappeared.

But now it’s popular to talk about these issues. So Marquez chimes in. Suddenly he cares enough to participate. EZ Muhammad takes to Instagram about the nightmares he has about race relations in this country. He asks “what if it were me?” 

EZ – I wish you had talked about this with us six months ago. Maybe we could’ve started some change in this community.

Tommy – I’ve never doubted you’re a good guy and that you wholeheartedly care about the community and its diversity. That’s why I reached out to you.

Jonathan Haynes from CrossFit, Inc.. When I approached you about CrossFit joining in on this conversation, you wrote me that I was gaslighting. That it wasn’t a topic worth discussion. Or relevant to our community. Yet this week you write on Twitter, “Anyone can join in on despising and working to eradicate racism.” That’s true Jonathan. You can work on it, too.

Zack George – I reached out to you. Yesterday you posted, “Empathy is not enough.” I agree with you. You could’ve taken action, too. But you’re only making time for this now.

Ant Haynes, Brenda Castro, Steph Chung, Tola Morakinyo, Dre Strohm, Chandler Smith, Chyna Cho, Jason Khalipa. I reached you to all of you. Where were you? Why does this matter now? Why didn’t it matter then?

I’ve lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the Mississippi river delta. Protests marched two blocks from where I live in Brooklyn. My college roommate and my closest friends from that era of my life are all intimately impacted by these issues. And I started my week thinking the community didn’t care. And now I’m finishing my week thinking the community did care – it just wasn’t popular enough to be worth their time. I’m angry. I’m disgusted. I’m sad. I’m embarrassed.

Matt Chan tweeted a picture of a protestor with a sign reading “If you’re neutral in situations of injustice, you’ve chosen the oppressor.”

By Ben Garves

Ben Garves is a digital product expert, author, entertainer, and activist. His portfolio of thought leadership in digital marketing and web experiences has included major clients like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, eBay, and Facebook. He’s also a freelance health and fitness journalist with over 400 stories written since 2018, a podcaster with 200 episodes to his name, and runs a YouTube channel with over 100 fitness and activism-oriented videos and live streams. Ben has founded the Fitness is for Everyone™ initiative to raise awareness about social injustice in both racial inequality and socioeconomic disparity in access to quality fitness and nutrition options around the globe.

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