CrossFit founder and owner Greg Glassman (Getty Images)
CrossFit founder and owner Greg Glassman (Getty Images)

BusinessJune 8, 2020

NZ gyms cut ties with CrossFit over founder’s George Floyd comments

CrossFit founder and owner Greg Glassman (Getty Images)
CrossFit founder and owner Greg Glassman (Getty Images)

An Auckland gym has joined a growing rush of CrossFit branded gyms to cut ties with the international fitness brand, over comments from the founder about the killing of George Floyd in the US. Alex Braae reports.

The world of CrossFit is being shaken by comments from founder Greg Glassman connecting Covid-19 to the death of George Floyd.

In response to a tweet from a US Health Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Glassman tweeted “It’s FLOYD-19”, before adding “Your failed model quarantined us and now you’re going to model a solution to racism? George Floyd’s brutal murder sparked riots nationally. Quarantine alone is ‘accompanied in every age and under all political regimes by an undercurrent of suspicion, distrust, and riots.’ Thanks!”

The connection has been seen by many within the wider world of CrossFit as deeply offensive, and has led to many associated organisations cutting ties with the brand.

One gym to have made such a decision is Reebok 09 in Mt Albert, which until this morning had the name Reebok Crossfit 09. When gym director Krista Sandford-Hill answered the phone, she briefly answered with the former name before correcting herself.

She said she was confident in the decision to cut ties with CrossFit, even though she had been associated with the brand for the last seven years. All of the relevant branding will be coming down immediately.

“It’s disgusting, to be honest, and all of us are in quite a lot of shock,” she said. Her first thought was “how quickly can I get rid of this word?”

The decision to remove the CrossFit branding was made with the gym’s wider community in mind, and has been widely supported so far, Sandford-Hill says. “Already, I only sent out the email ten minutes ago, and there are 15 different people who have replied. Every single person is saying how much they support the decision. The community that we have – we don’t support any kind of discrimination.”

CrossFit is effectively a brand name that gyms have to pay an affiliation fee to use. Those fees cost anywhere between several hundred to several thousand dollars a year, with Reebok 09 paying $3500 a year. In 2016, there were more than 13,000 affiliated gyms worldwide.

That number now looks likely to come down significantly. The phenomenon of cutting ties with CrossFit has been supported by actor and former high-profile CrossFit fan Anna Paquin, who posted on Instagram that “you are either a racist or an anti-racist. #gregglassman and #crossfithq have picked the wrong side. I don’t need a brand name to maintain my commitment to fitness.” Sportswear giant Reebok also announced they would have no further association.

Not everyone involved in the CrossFit community is making the same decision. Gisborne te reo advocate and CrossFit coach Darryn White says he probably won’t be doing so, even if he doesn’t agree with what Glassman tweeted.

“Me personally, it hasn’t affected me, but I can see how it would have caused outrage,” said White. “I think he stepped outside of his realm by sending that tweet. It’s got nothing to do with him, he’s a 60-something white male and he’s commenting on Black Lives Matter.”

White says that for many in the community, the previous behaviour and statements of Glassman will have pushed many to the edge of whether they want to continue being involved. A controversy which didn’t reach wider attention outside of the community came when Glassman made major changes to the CrossFit Games without really consulting those who would be taking part.

“What it’s trying to do is a bit controversial, trying to be more than just a strength and conditioning programme. And then I think something like this tweet has probably pushed those who were already on the edge to make the leap,” White says.

He believes a more useful contribution from Glassman has been his long-term crusade against the sugar industry, particularly in how it relates to New Zealand’s issues with diabetes. He also suggests there is an element of “chasing social media” with the backlash to Glassman’s tweet.

For the fitness industry, it comes at a difficult time, as gyms try to rebuild their businesses after having to pause programmes during the Covid-19 response. Sandford-Hill said her gym would continue to operate, but it won’t be using the CrossFit branding.

“The beautiful thing about what was CrossFit is that you put your flavour on it. Every single owner of a CrossFit facility is a human being and could put their own spin on it. We are a strength and conditioning facility, and a life coaching facility.

“We just had a word which gave some people an idea of what we did. It’s actually going to be better, because so many people didn’t like CrossFit already.”

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