Yesterday, CrossFit fired Russell Berger just a few hours after he released a homophobic Tweet using his title, corporate platform, and tagging the company in it. That is the speed of light, in corporate time. That morning, Berger referred to celebrating gay pride a as a “celebration of sin.” By the end of the workday, there was a 2-Tweet statement from CrossFit in which they acknowledged the issue, made a clear stand in favor of inclusion and then took decisive action. Russell Berger was fired from his very public position at CrossFit by the end of the day.
That’s a big deal. On a whole lot of levels. (Including that CrossFit has not historically been known as a great ally to LGBTQ folx, so this is a sharp shift.)
CrossFit is well known to be Libertarian in their tendencies. They don’t weigh in on the behavior at individual gyms, or of individual CrossFitters, pretty much ever. As a company, CrossFit is clear with all their affiliates that although the principles of CrossFit as a fitness program involving exercise and nutrition is crystal clear, what you do with it is up to you. No two affiliates are alike, by design.
CrossFit is loathe, as far as I can tell, to infringe on any individual’s freedom of speech. However, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. And in the case of Russell Berger, it does not mean freedom to say whatever you want AS A SPOKESPERSON FOR THE COMPANY. Because your speech is truly not your own at that point, it is a reflection of the values and direction of the company for which you are paid to be a spokesperson. It is literally a marketing campaign. That’s very different.
What was the original issue? A gym in Indiana, CrossFit Infiltrate, refused to hold a Pride WOD. For the record, I 100% support their right not to hold a Pride WOD. That’s their belief, I don’t think anyone should force them to go against their belief. (As long as they’re not refusing service to queer folk, that’s a different issue.) They sent an email to several members explaining something about God and sin and whatnot, and as a result of that email, most of their coaches and members quit on the spot. CrossFit Infiltrate has every right in the world to express their values. Once those values are made clear, people who find them reprehensible have the right to refuse to patronize them. (Yay, people, that was awesome.)
In all of that, CrossFit said nothing. Because why would they? That’s the free market at work. Everyone was well within their rights. Their shit got handled. Or handed to them.
Russell Berger, a spokesperson for CrossFit, then used his platform and title and employers name to support CrossFit Infiltrate in standing up “against sin.”
Um. Hell no. That kind of bigotry is absolutely not representative of the brand. Moreover, it is not representative of the thousands of gay CrossFitters, and thousands of CrossFit gyms that proudly have rainbows all over their logos and support humans of all shapes and sizes no matter who and how they love. (To paraphrase the Tweet that CrossFit released.)
Russell put his employer in an impossible position. They now had to choose sides. They had to protect him and his hate speech, or take a stand against him and hate. Being silent was not an option. In so doing, they were going to piss off tons of people, no matter what side they took. For a company that historically takes the side of saying nothing, being forced to take a strong stand was likely very jarring. It certainly couldn’t have been easy. It’s like a Sophie’s choice in which one kid is clearly the way better one but it feels shitty to admit that, cuz, you know, it’s your kid, you made it.
But they did choose.
They chose love. They chose equity. They chose inclusivity. They chose historically marginalized people.
They chose to stand on the right side of history.
But it’s also the only thing to do if CrossFit is going to achieve what I personally see as it’s highest potential: Saving as many lives as possible with fitness and nutrition. (Again, I am not a spokesperson for CrossFit.)
Every gym owner that I personally know is completely focused on health. Not being “ripped.” Not winning The Games. Not being cool, popular, sexy (whatever that means,) or anything else. Saving lives. Finding ways for inactive people to embrace fitness. Finding ways for people to use their bodies well into old age when society used to tell us to sit down and wait to die. Finding ways to get people to realize that small changes in nutrition and exercise can greatly reduce pain, disease and other issues of lifestyle and aging.
That’s what CrossFit is. CrossFit is about LIFE. It’s about being able to do more, for longer, with your body than you knew you could. And do it with less pain, less illness, fewer chronic conditions. It’s about being connected to a community of people who really and truly give a fuck about you. No matter who you are or how “good” you are at CrossFitting.
At Rocket, we go out of our way to make sure you know you belong. I don’t care what, if any, gender you identify as. I don’t care who or how you love (but I hope you do, I love love. ) I don’t care how much you weigh, how old you are, how much you love or hate working out. I just want you to know that you belong, and you’re capable of more than you know, in and out of the gym.
And that is the sentiment of so many gym owners that I personally know. I am not special. When I saw Russell’s Tweet I was ready to walk away from CrossFit forever, if they didn’t condemn it. I was not alone, at all.
In choosing to be on the right side of history here, CrossFit has made a move that can further their mission of saving lives. Yes, that’s good business. That’s a bigger market. But it’s also just 100% consistent with what CrossFit, as a fitness brand is. Our whole deal is that we are for EVERY BODY. Not just the superfit.
Which brings me to The Games. And something that I personally wish more people understood: CrossFit is not The Games. They are not one and the same. In fact, they are very different.
There are 14,000 CrossFit gyms, and growing. Something like 3,000,000 active CrossFit members in those gyms. (I’m doing napkin math, don’t hold me to it.) How many people go to the Games? 40? (I don’t follow the Games, as Greg Glassman said in an interview recently, “I’m not here for the Thruster Races.”) As such, The Games represent and absurdly small percentage of CrossFitters, and virtually nothing of what CrossFit as a global movement is.
I cringe through the Games season. I cringe because I think they give people the wrong idea about what CrossFit is. The Games is “the sport of fitness.” Think of the Games as The Olympics. Think of CrossFit as every other athlete everywhere in the world practicing their sport for fun and fitness with no real goal. You would never see someone taking a run in the park and say to them, “the Olympics are bullshit.” Same thing.
If you were to imagine an “I am Spartacus” moment in which Every CrossFitter stood up and said “I Am CrossFit,” you’d have a fucking rainbow. (Actually, HQ, that’s a really good idea, you should do that.) In my gym alone, you’d have people from 8 – 80, every shape and color you can imagine, gay, straight, bi, trans, you name it. We are CrossFit.
And we will fight for inclusion. But we also see the change, the shift within HQ. CrossFit has come a long ways in the 7 years we’ve been an affiliate. And I think it’s because “they” have seen the power of “us.” Sure, CrossFit may have started small and just kinda done it’s thing. But the folks at the helm are not blind. They see the lives that have changed, the communities the have formed. They might not have meant to save the world, or change the face of fitness.
But they did.
And yesterday, they stood with that change. With pride.
And I, for one, have never been more proud to fly a CrossFit flag.
______ * As an aside, Rocket really does pride itself on radical inclusivity. But we are not alone. Granted, we’re in Seattle, which is a pretty great place to be queer. But I need to hand out special kudos to the folks at Foundation CrossFit and CrossFit Loft as being soulmate gyms with us. I know that I can always count on them in big ways, and refer members to them without reservation. If you’re looking for gyms that are all about community and inclusion, they need to be on your list.