Selective silence: CrossFit’s new culture

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The weekend of Sept. 18 and 19 kicked off the annual CrossFit Games, an event that hosts professional CrossFitters worldwide in a battle to claim the titles of the Fittest Man and Woman on Earth. Because of COVID-19, the preliminary events were held in a virtual format, but the top five men and women will compete at a live, in-person event in Aromas, California, this October. Despite efforts to replicate the hype of the competition floor in an online format, the virtual competition was surely an adjustment for an event that attracted about 70,000 spectators in 2018.

But there was more missing to the Games than the screaming live fans.

A conversation surrounding racial injustice — one that should have been happening since former CEO Greg Glassman’s racist and insensitive tweets and ingenuine apology back in June — was entirely missing.

The intense competition this September made it clear: CrossFit athletes love to get out of their comfort zones. Just not when it truly counts.

It was easy for Ben Bergeron, who coaches several CrossFit Games athletes at his gym in Boston, to post an Instagram video denouncing CrossFit for its inaction and vowing against silence.

If we give Bergeron the benefit of the doubt, we can commend his immediate actions after Glassman’s tweets. He promptly disaffiliated from the CrossFit brand (which charges gym owners a fee to use the brand name) and renamed his world-class gym “Community Fitness New England.”

It would have been harder for Bergeron to remain steadfast in his convictions — even once Black Lives Matter was no longer widely trending.

With literally no explanation whatsoever, CrossFit New England has reaffiliated. “Community Fitness New England” was apparently as short-lived as Bergeron’s public outrage over police brutality and systemic racism.

But it was not just Bergeron who seemingly rode the gentle tides of performative activism and coasted safely back to shore. Brooke Wells and Katrín Davíðsdóttir, two of Bergeron’s most successful and high-profile athletes, also made promises they were apparently unable to keep.

“I AM OUT,” Wells wrote to her followers June 12, even after Glassman’s resignation. “I cannot be silent about what is going on in the CrossFit world. It goes so strongly against my values, beliefs & morals.”

Wells finished with this statement: “The only way things could change for me, is if Greg + those who stood by & allowed this to happen are NOT a part of CrossFit.”

Dave Castro, who stepped in as CEO after Glassman’s resignation, has been the director of the CrossFit Games since their inception and is considered to be one of the founding members of CrossFit. As he worked side by side with Glassman, it is nearly impossible that he was not one of “those who stood by & allowed this to happen.” Castro, at the very least, was most likely complacent.

And yet, Wells is currently competing in the Games. She placed No. 2 overall and will be advancing to the competition in Aromas.

There was not a single mention of the declarations she made in June. She offered no explanation as to why she was competing, nor did she attempt to further a conversation around racial violence. With absolutely no follow-up, her hollow words have crumbled.

If you are wondering why nobody has held Wells accountable, it is because her training partner joined her in making empty promises.

Davíðsdóttir, who placed No. 4, will be joining Wells at the October competition. On the same day as Wells, Davíðsdóttir wrote to her followers, “I will not be competing in the 2020 (CrossFit) Games. And until further changes have been met, I will not represent this sport.”

This was her last mention of boycotting. Fans are left wondering what changes prompted her to change her mind and join the competition — perhaps changes that only Davíðsdóttir, Wells and Bergeron can see.

The leaders at CrossFit headquarters seemingly treated Black Lives Matter as an internet trend. And as they made a seamless transition from Glassman to Castro, it seems as though every CrossFit leader shrugged and decided that one resignation was enough.

But to those looking for actual change within the company, one resignation felt as ineffective as a few black squares.

A critique of CrossFit’s inaction should not be taken as an effort to “cancel” the brand or the athletes. Collegiate athletes and professional teams alike have been instrumental in applying pressure to politicians and shifting public opinion. Similarly, CrossFit has enormous potential to expand the intersection of sports and activism. Several Games athletes have more than 1 million followers on Instagram, and there are more than 15,000 affiliate gyms scattered across the globe.

CrossFit athletes have undeniable influence over a community that might otherwise remain willfully ignorant. Most Games athletes are extremely active on social media, chronicling their meticulous diets and rigid training regimes daily. They reach an audience of hardcore fitness buffs who might be tuning everything else out.

We learned in June that a large number of CrossFitters recognize the need for systemic change. For a moment, high-profile CrossFitters were willing to engage with the widespread racial reckoning in the country. Then they backed down.

I will remain unimpressed by their Murph times until they can prove that they’re able to handle the discomfort that they may feel if they ever fulfill the promises made in June.

All told, the very foundation of this conversation is fundamentally flawed. CrossFitters and gym owners on all sides of the political spectrum seemed to be more outraged by Glassman’s tweet than they were by George Floyd’s killing or by the deaths of countless other Black Americans at the hands of the state. At lightning speed, the conversation shifted to focus on the white CrossFitters who felt victimized after the man responsible for their livelihood tweeted something insensitive. The outrage was there, but seemed to be entirely misplaced. At its very core, the approach appeared to be flawed before it even began.

The decision of Davíðsdóttir or Wells to compete at the CrossFit Games hardly seems worthy of a headline — especially in the same week that Breonna Taylor was once again denied justice.

But I digress.

Some sports teams braved the rocky waters of activism. CrossFit athletes dipped their toes in, then decided that they’d rather stay dry.

Sarah Siegel covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].