Podcast Special: Diversity in CrossFit, Part 2

This month I’m featuring stories about diversity in the sport of fitness, and we’re continuing with Part 2 of that story today.

Good morning and welcome to the WODDITY podcast for news about CrossFit. We are a daily podcast, Monday through Friday, doing CrossFit news in five minutes or less.

My name is Ben Garves and today is Monday, the 10th of February, 2020.

First, let me say this: CrossFit has been an incredible ally to WODDITY. They’ve given us incredible space and leniency to tell the stories we want to tell, they’ve been responsive to our questions, and they’ve enabled us to tell their story by inviting us to the CrossFIt Games. 

I made a promise to Johnathan Haynes when I first reached out to CrossFit about diversity that I was going to do a couple of things. First, that this story wasn’t going to be about gaslighting or building clickbaity material around a racy topic. And in this case, “racy” is on the nose. Second, I was going to approach this as an opportunity to tell stories about diversity in the community and not approach it with a biased hypothesis that there is a diversity problem. This episode is me talking about my experiences, which should not paint a wholistic picture of CrossFit as a whole, nor should it take away from the incredible work they’re doing to rebuild the good faith in their name as they combat the blatant lies behind the NSCA and Big Soda. I would say I’ve been drinking the Kool Aid, but in this case it’s more La Croix and Life Aid.

Does CrossFit Have a Data Problem?

If you joined us on Friday, you heard a piece from Marcus Lowther, a CFL3 coach and black gym owner, talking about how he feels CrossFit may not have a diversity problem, but may have a diversity data problem. Lowther said that, over his time interacting with the organization, he’s never been asked to answer any diversity poll or questions around the topic. If I’m interpreting that correctly, he thinks CrossFit may not have data around diversity in their affiliates. Which makes sense – the way the organization works empowers affiliates to take the methodology and run with it. CrossFit isn’t a babysitter and they’ve always been clear that affiliates, while the beneficiary of CrossFit’s branding and legal battle efforts, are responsible for their own decisions and their own success.

I think at the most basic level, this is CrossFit’s way of saying they don’t see color. Which is a noble effort, but one that can be problematic. And for me to explain way, I have to tell you a little more about myself than I’ve ever been comfortable sharing with you. 

“Not Seeing” Color

This starts with my ethnic makeup. So, full disclosure, I’m a very white male. Super white. Like, I told Ant Haynes when approaching him about contributing that I’m occasionally confused for a ghost. So…what does Whitey McWhite Guy know about divserity? Well, I graduated from high school and went to college at a small school named Mississippi Valley State University. Go Delta Devils. Sports fans among you may recognize MVSU as the college of NFL legend Jerry Rice. Others may be familiar with MVSU for occasionally making it into March Madness and getting demolished by UCLA in 2008 with a score of 29 to 70. But, an important note about MVSU is that it is a historically black college. Many people don’t know that efforts combating Jim Crow laws in southern states which resulted in desegregation of white schools also required black schools to offer education to a group of minorities – in my case, for being white. Yes, it sounds dark and twisted now, but uneducated middle class suburb-living Seattle resident Ben Garves in high school had no idea what the cultural and social optics of that decision would be.

And this is where the problem was. I was raised not to see color. My parents, their parents, my friends’ parents – they all thought the best way to address racism and racial inequality was to pretend that race didn’t exist. The problem with that is you don’t prepare your kids to be able to have conversations about and acknowledge racial issues when they see racial issues. Whether social, economic, professional, or as simple as the members of the gym you go to. 

Do our gyms have a diversity problem? We don’t know. Because apparently and we don’t ask. You can see how not asking a question about diversity in memberships also means we’re possibly complicit in enabling a problem to exist. But we just don’t know.

Experiences in the Gyms

Here’s what I know. And this is purely anecdotal, meaning I have no evidence beyond my own personal experiences. Over the last ten years I’ve been a member at fourteen CrossFit gyms in eight cities and five states. Never have I ever gone to a class where I was given an opportunity to work out with a black colleague. Latin, absolutely. I know multiple Latin American gym owners. Asian-American, for sure. I’m not actively aware of a racial vacuum, but when asked the question, I for sure couldn’t think of a single experience.

Helping an At-Risk Community

Marcus mentioned that he felt socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and gender under-served and at-risk communities could benefit so largely from what CrossFit offers. It would be a shame not to make sure we do what we can to work for that. Yes, Chandler Smith is a black athlete and may be the most exciting athlete to watch right now. But, is having only one of the top 25 males and 25 females at the CrossFit Games a good representation of our global diversity? No. And the National Champion program is going to help with that. But I think, at a more basic level, that effort starts in the gyms.

And that’s my story about my experience with diversity in CrossFit. I want to hear your story. Email a 1-3 minute recording or a typed out story to ben@bengarves-staging.mystagingwebsite.com. I look forward to hearing what you have to say. This segment will pick back up on Friday.

We’ll be back with news about CrossFit tomorrow. Please be sure to rate, review, subscribe, and share. For WODDITY, I’m Ben Garves. Thanks for listening.

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.