Why Our Community is Better Off Without CrossFit

Good afternoon to some, good morning to others. Welcome to a very important episode of Elite Sports Insider. I do want to say that, while the topic is solemn and we find ourselves at this point because of so many horrible things happening in the United States, I will do what I can to make this episode engaging and positive.

Today we’re going to dig deeply into the topic of racial injustice and how CrossFit is handling it, followed by why I’m compelled as a business owner to condemn their behavior. We’ll acknowledge the good work being done in our community by elite athletes and other leaders. After that, we’ll talk about what you can do to make a difference. Everything you see and hear on this episode will have links, screenshots, or other evidence in the show notes at WODDITY.com, so you can see, read, self-educate, validate, and understand this more deeply. After that, we’ll talk about the future of WODDITY without CrossFit, Inc, and finish with what we think the future of the community and elite sports competition looks like.

Thank you for tuning in to watch this special, whether you’re doing it live or after the live stream. We have a lot to cover. Let’s go.

A Primer on Racial Injustice and Black America

My hope is that if you’re watching this, you’ve already begun to educate yourself about what it means to be black in America. That you’ve begun to understand, if life was a race, and people with my skin color started at the start line, then people who look like Elisabeth Akinwale and EZ Muhammad started at the same time, but a thousand yards back, in the parking lot, with a weight vest. And they’ve been told by us, the white people, over and over again, it’s not our responsibility to help make this a fair race. But it’s worse than that, because it is our history as white America, that made Black America start the race where they are.

We’ve always treated this like a problem black communities have a responsibility to fix for themselves. Like we would stand over somebody stuck in quicksand, holding a rope, and say, “I feel for you. You can have my thoughts and prayers. I hope you can get out on your own,” instead of throwing them a rope and pulling them out.

As activists, one of the biggest arguments continuously thrown at us is that, in the idea that black lives matter, we should also acknowledge that all lives matter. The metaphor we’re that counters this argument is so simple it almost feels silly we have to talk about it. If your house was on fire, you wouldn’t want the fire department to come spray a little water on all the houses in your neighborhood. The houses that aren’t on fire. You would want them to focus all of their water on your house. The one that needs attention. The one that’s on fire.

Our racial divide, our racial inequality, our hurdle to overcome is so deep in this country that it affects us in ways we don’t even see when they’re in front of our own eyes. Anyone in multimedia needs to look no further than trying to edit an image of a black man in Photoshop to know even the algorithms our technology uses are inherently and systemically white.

The neighborhoods we live in are inherently and systematically divided by socioeconomic status. The schools we go to are inherently and systematically divided by our divided neighborhoods. And the subjects we teach and how we interpret our history are inherently and systematically white. The lens through which we’ve been taught to view our history has been and still is inherently and systematically white.

And this show isn’t here to white bash. It’s not here for white guilt or white shame. As white people in America, we’ve been blessed that we’ve been, time and time again, given an opportunity to do better. And that’s what this show is about. Doing better.

Racial Injustice and CrossFit

So let’s talk about evidence in CrossFit that we have a diversity problem in our community. 

I like to look at the CrossFit Games as an indicator that problems exist. I think the white-biased ratios of skin color and ethnicity in our elite athletes are obvious, and are a symptom of what the ratios of skin color and ethnicity would look like in our gyms if CrossFit tracked that data.

We’re not telling Dave Castro to write CrossFit Games events that tailor to national champions or black athletes, or whatever can of worms that would even look like. This isn’t about the Games. We want to see a true test of fitness just as much as CrossFit does. But the fact that we have to drop to spots 21, 22, and 26 on the men’s side of the Open leaderboard to see diversity is a pretty good indicator of a problem. 

If we took the top 25 men from the leaderboard and found only one black athlete, that small sample size would say four percent of our community is black. More than 13 percent of America is black. So we’re doing something wrong. We’re doing something poorly. There’s something to learn here. 

You have to look far outside the top 100 women in the CrossFit Open to find a black female athlete. We’re talking an indicator that black female gym members make up significantly less than one percent than our gym populations. We’re doing something wrong. We’re doing something poorly. There’s something for us to learn here.

So when we reach out to CrossFit to ask them to acknowledge racial adversity in our country, it’s not us telling CrossFit we think they’re racist. It’s us communicating that this is indicative that there is a systemic problem with how we’re embracing diversity at the gym level. And CrossFit, as a parent organization, has the ability to lead by example and share resources for how to change that. 

And I’m saying “share resources” – I understand an affiliate relationship is different from a franchise relationship. But CrossFit is the VERY PUBLIC brand at the head of our community. And they should want to partner on this. They’ve effectively alienated thirteen percent of the American gym-going population.

So CrossFit, Greg Glassman: our letters, or social media, our emails, are the community asking you for thought leadership. We’re asking you what we can do. We’re asking you how we can take steps forward. And, unfortunately, you’ve told us nothing. You’re providing no guidance. Your sole example of leadership in this moment is an email calling a gym owner delusional for asking about it. Your sole public announcement is that you’re listening. But we’ve been clear that listening isn’t enough anymore. We’ve been asking you to speak.

Now, I say this not just to CrossFit, but to the community, as you watch this: If, as a white person, you’re intimidated by the thought of joining this, or walking through this, doesn’t it make sense that it may be intimidating as a black person to join a gym or try to compete in a world that looks like this?

I think CrossFit should ask themselves how this moment is different. Not just because the world is watching, but how this moment is different for them. COVID-19 has put a temporary end to the National Champions competing on the biggest stage. So all of that diversity CrossFit’s been working to grow around the globe is temporarily returned to the whitewashed experience we had up through the 2018 CrossFit Games and, to be honest, because of cuts, on the final two days of competition in 2019. How do we compensate for that? How can we work together to show the world we’re working to be better about this?

I’d also like to address what I see to be a huge lapse in judgment from CrossFit. When they took drastic measures to lay off their media staff, the one high-level employee they kept was Sevan Matossian. Formerly the host of CrossFit’s podcast and with director/producer credit on a number of CrossFit documentaries, Matossian’s resume may seem like a relevant reason for CrossFit to keep him on board. Unfortunately, Matossian has started his own personal podcast, on which he chooses to spread hatred and misinformation toward these civil rights protests and any causes not adhering to his seemingly dysfunctional moral code.

WODDITY Condemns CrossFit’s Behavior

I am under no delusion that our small following is going to be anything more than a superficial scratch on the skin of CrossFit’s brand. But I can’t in good conscience keep myself, my company, and my influence over my community aligned with a company who feels silence or the bare minimum level of activism makes them a moral authority or a thought leader in the space. Or that empowers those who spread hatred.

For that reason, WODDITY will be actively separating ourselves from the CrossFit brand over the coming weeks. It, unfortunately, means the documentary and two books we have in the works will be shelved, and that the very basis of our business model has to pivot to stay alive.

But it will be worth every extra minute of work and every rewrite to make sure WODDITY and our community stands with those affected by racial injustice. 

How CrossFit Can Redeem Itself

CrossFit has said too little, and they’ve said it too late. Our reassociation with them will only happen if they take these steps:

  1. CrossFit makes a public statement condemning radical police violence and acknowledges that black lives matter.
  2. CrossFit starts a program focusing on opening affiliates in underprivileged and under-served neighborhoods.
  3. Greg Glassman issues a public apology to Rocket Community Fitness for what he wrote in his scathing email.
  4. CrossFit begins an annual survey on diversity in its affiliates and publishes the results as a report card on its performance.
  5. CrossFit releases Sevan Matossian for spreading hate speech on his personal podcast.

Believe me when I say this isn’t a decision I make lightly. I know CrossFit will never meet these demands. But, if I take a step back and I look at this list, condemning hatred, apologizing for missteps, building programs that ensure diversity in your organization, and letting go an employee for hate speech…there isn’t an responsible organization in the world that doesn’t already have these programs and protections for their employees and customers. And that’s what our gyms are to CrossFit – we are their customers. And we’re taking our business elsewhere.

Community Allies

Now, I’d like to celebrate and shine a spotlight on allies in the community taking steps to make this world a better place and foster a more-diverse community.

  • Steph Chung did the research to understand the privileges many of us have that aren’t shared by someone of color. She shared over 20 examples of everyday scenarios that are not dangerous for a white person, but have resulted in the tragic killing of someone of color.
  • Dani Speegle made a public statement about how she will be vocal with, and call out, any hatred she sees. She writes “Sitting by and being silent and letting these people get away with comments like this and not letting them know that it is not okay is exactly what’s wrong with the world. It’s time to stop being silent. We have to say something.”
  • John Wooley of Make WODs Great Again took a stand, risking almost 300,000 followers, to have an ongoing conversation about diversity in our community. He’s been accompanied by Niki Brazier in making sure diverse voices in the sport are heard. First with EZ Muhammad, and most recently with Marquan Jones.
  • Emily Bridgers has shared a list of black-owned businesses near her and asked her community to prioritize supporting them. 
  • Cody Mooney marched with Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Maine.
  • Kelsey Kiel openly commented that CrossFit was sharing things like a kipping toes-to-bar tutorial and still hadn’t addressed the community. She demanded: “Do. Better.”
  • Alyssa Ritchey took the time to go to the TED Talks website and educate herself on racism in America. 
  • Meredith Root is proud of the Mayor of Washington DC for painting the street leading up to the White House to read that black lives matter.
  • Lindy Barber shared the story of Rocket Community Fitness, a Seattle gym and now former affiliate that reached out to Greg Glassman to ask why CrossFit has been silent and was told they were delusional and that Glassman was ashamed of them. 
  • I want to acknowledge some amazing gyms, which have put their money and their actions where their mouth is in de-affiliating or calling out CrossFit. Rocket Community Fitness in Seattle, for reaching out to Greg Glassman and sharing his horrific response. Petworth Fitness in Washington DC, which was the first gym I’m aware of to de-affiliate due to CrossFit’s ongoing inaction with diversity. And to Subversus Fitness in Philadelphia, for making a very loud and very public statement about using their strength to dismantle a culture which tolerates discrimination.
  • I’d like to acknowledge those creating a new version of hero workouts, which support and empower the stories of black lives lost. Workouts like:
    • Stacy Pugh’s  “Big Floyd
    • EZ Muhammad’s “Don’t Shoot
    • And three times per week, Iron Roots Athlete is posting new workouts to their “Walk With Us” series. Workouts like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
  • I’d like to acknowledge Jessica Griffith, who we’ve found from leaked text messages actively used the “n” word and thought it was okay. She’s since removed her Instagram account. I hope she is okay and the community uses this as an opportunity to show it’s okay to learn. 
  • And to acknowledge Travis Williams, who fought to declare there’s nothing wrong with her doing so. He even went so far as to say he didn’t owe Chandler Smith an apology, because Smith fights for Williams’ and Griffith’s rights to say these things. It was great to see James Townsend reach out to Williams and that Williams was willing to join him in a public conversation about it and later apologize for what he had said.
  • Shame on Morning Chalk Up, who’s moral values are flexible enough to take money from an organization like Black Rifle Coffee Company, which actively spews disinformation and hatred in shameless promotion of their brand.

Here’s a story about them: In 2017, as a response to a travel ban which was found by the court of law to be racially-motivated and illegal, Starbucks announced they would hire 10,000 refugees. Black Rifle Coffee Company, in a shameless self-promotion campaign, declared they’d hire 10,000 veterans. What they chose to ignore was that Starbucks actively began recruiting veterans in 2013, and had hired more than 8,800 by the end of 2016. And, to add insult to injury, as of 2018, Black Rifle Coffee Company had fewer than 100 total employees anyway.

Meanwhile, they’ve made videos propagating LGBTQ stereotypes and making light of gun violence, and are actively reporting misinformation about the Black Lives Matter protests. And yet, hypocritically, Justin LoFranco and Morning Chalk Up claim to stand beside both their sponsor and the movement.

How to Contribute

This makes for a really good transition into what we can do as a community, to not only donate time and money, but to actively instigate change within our spheres of influence. 

If you have a social media account you have a sphere of influence. If you have just one follower, you still have one person who can be affected by what you choose to post and share. Many of you have started there, and I implore you to continue. Share positive messages. Continue a constructive discord on why black lives matter and help the people around you understand the cause.

If you have time to spare, it costs you nothing to join a black lives matter demonstration. Yeah, it’s going to be uncomfortable for you, especially if you’ve spent your life sheltered by your white bubble. But I can 100% guarantee you will not regret it and that your life will be forever changed by what you experience. And that you will be embraced with open arms. 

If you are blessed with resources and have the ability to donate, there are so many great organizations out there, aligned to this cause, that you can donate to, and I have links for them:

  • The NAACP is a longstanding organization helping to organize movements and defend victims of racial descrimination. They are a powerful lobbying voice.
  • Black Lives Matter is one I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of lately. You can donate to the parent organization, or google Black Lives Matter and your state or major city to donate to the local movement.

WODDITY’s Resources

I’ve created a resource center for you on WODDITY.com – it has links to and evidence of every argument and statement made in this show. It will be actively updated and modified as the community grows and changes.

The Future of WODDITY

I’m a firm believer that we can’t teach the next generation if we can’t reach the next generation. The future of our community starts with how and who we continue to inspire. So, taking a look at WODDITY, this can’t be our face anymore. It needs to be this. 

What we represent as the faces of our sport and the faces of our gyms are what will be looked at by kids when they decide whether or not functional fitness is for them, or if it’s just something white people do. 

And we will add the American flag as a backdrop. Because patriotism isn’t owned by racism and prejudice. It isn’t owned by people who think America is great as it is. Patriotism and the flag is owned by those who dream of and work for what America should, and someday will be. We take back that ownership.

I ask that you bear with me as I go through and update all of the content in WODDITY’s network. We have a lot of images, a lot of videos, a lot of accounts in so many different places.

WODDITY is not going away. If anything, we’re just getting started. You’ll continue to see this Elite Sports Insider live show every weekend, along with the WODDITY Podcast every morning, Monday through Friday. 

Our new mission statement reads: WODDITY is a multimedia journalism company working to empower a diverse community of gyms, gym members, elite sports athletes, and competitions. We resolve to give power to voices creating positive change while casting a shadow on those enabling violence, harassment, and willful disruption of social, racial, and cultural progress.

We’re done being CrossFit-adjacent, but that doesn’t mean we won’t celebrate the amazing milestones of our community, its gyms, and its athletes. We’re excited for the future of functional fitness as a sport, as championed by USA Functional Fitness and the International Functional Fitness Federation. No one company should feel the burden of being the governing body for an entire sport, and we feel it is time CrossFit relinquish that role.

As a fan, I want them to grow and change. And I hope they do before they lose the good work they’ve done to change so many lives for the better.

It’s been a long show and we’ve covered a lot. For those of you who have watched through to the end, I don’t have words for how grateful I am. Thank you for watching. Please share this with your friends and your community. Keep being the force for good in the world, and I’ll see you on the next Elite Sports Insider.

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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.