The past few days have seen a revolution in the world of CrossFit. In response to a litany of tone-deaf and off-brand media, capped by the dismissive and insensitive comments of the CEO, one gym started a tidal wave of disassociation from the CrossFit brand. By examining the tactics used to successfully combat an outdated ideology we can inform and improve our own tactics in the fight against systemic racism and social injustice generally.
It’s Worth It. When Alyssa Royse of Rocket Community Fitness wrote to Greg Glassman she didn’t write to say “change your stance or I’m leaving your brand.” She didn’t say “put up a social media post or I’m going to call you out.” She said “for a variety of reasons, your attitude to the current civil rights movement among them, I am leaving your brand.” (not a direct quote) There was no threat. There was communication. Alyssa wrote, here is why I am leaving. I am telling you this so that you can have the opportunity to keep this from happening again. In the organizing world we call this “leaving the door open.” Alyssa took this approach because, as she states in her email, she thinks CrossFit is worth it. “If I didn’t think you and CrossFit were worth it, I wouldn’t bother.”
Right now white people like myself are being asked to have tough conversations with themselves and tough conversations with the people in their lives. Presumably these are the people we care about. It is much easier to criticize a stranger than someone close to us. But truly this is not the work that needs to be done. Next time you want to use some of your finite energy, ask yourself if you care about that person. If you do, put up that good fight! If you don’t maybe leave that fight for someone who does actually care about that specific individual. Someone who cares is more likely to know the situation, know how to talk to that person, know their experience. I promise, there are enough battles for all of us to have our fill and more.
Cancel Culture is Cancelled. When Alyssa reached out to Greg Glassman it was from a place of compassion. When that compassion was met with vitriol, Alyssa decided to share her stance with the world. She said I have decided to leave CrossFit. She specifically did not say “and you should too” or “and if you don’t you’re also a terrible person.” When we allow our light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. We will never know what could have happened if instead of taking this self-oriented approach Alyssa had chosen to tell other people what they should do. What we do know is that by showing the CrossFit community what could be done she created space for other gyms and owners to be just as powerful, brave and accountable as she was. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Lao Tzu in the Dao De Jing – “of a good leader, when the work is done, the people will say, we did it ourselves.”
When we talk to a relative or a friend or an employer it is important to communicate with them in a way that makes it possible for them to change their stance and their behavior. If you go to a person and say you’re wrong, you’re bad, you’re evil, — if you attack a person — they are going to withdraw. They are going to entrench. You are going to create a more fervent enemy out of a potential ally. By the same token if we simply tell a person what to do they will not learn what to do in the next, new, different situation. “Give a person a fish and they will eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and they will eat for a lifetime.” We all hate racism (presumably that’s why you’re reading this essay). The only way to eliminate racism is to eliminate racist behavior. And not just on the internet but in real life. Backing someone into a corner, calling them an enemy, will not change their behavior. When I talk to someone I care about, a misguided family member or an ignorant friend, I come to them from a place of compassion. “You said or did this thing, and it hurt my feelings. Here’s how it hurt me personally, and here’s how it hurts other people. If you want to continue to be in my life here’s how I would like you to act in the future. I want you in my life so I do hope you think on what I’m saying, but it’s up to you.” And then I give that person time and space. And another chance to improve their behavior. I don’t expect them to change overnight. I never look for an apology and I never look for an explanation. I don’t care “why,” just don’t do it again!
Meeting someone with compassion, teaching them an alternative and giving them the space to put that teaching into practice is hard. It’s much easier to lash out at someone and call them names. While this will feel better in the short term it does not move us closer to our goal of having more anti-racist people in our country. So what is the role of cancel culture?
Cancelled is what victory looks like. When Rocket Community Fitness decided to distance themselves, and gave others permission to do them same, the result was that CrossFit was “cancelled.” The boycott is not the tactic, the boycott is the vision of success. The tactic is compassion and education. The boycott of CrossFit is the new world we are fighting for. A world where we will continue to forge the bonds of community through fitness just without making some disconnected old man rich in the process. What’s more, we’ve empowered ourselves to stand up for what we believe in within our community. If we had just cancelled because someone told us to there would be no empowerment. We’d be the same as we were before but with a different leader. This is not progress. This is a lateral move. Next time someone tells you to cancel a celebrity or post a certain hashtag, ask yourself who they are trying to empower. Are they trying to empower you to be the type of person you want to be? Or are they trying to empower themselves to make you the type of person they want you to be? It’s fine to decide to go with the trend, but make sure you’re doing it because you believe in it not because you’re afraid of being punished if you don’t. Step into your power and let your light shine. Give others the space to let theirs shine as well.
The Next Horizon. While I am immensely proud of the CrossFit community and my association with the athletes, owners and coaches the fight against systemic racism is far from over. I think we all know that. But it is important to acknowledge what we have done today. We have stood together for something we believe in. Just as we practice being brave in the gym so we can be braver outside the walls of the box, we have practiced standing up which will make it easier for us to stand up next time. We must not be satisfied with this small success, but we must honor our efforts and the efforts of our brothers, sisters and friends. From this coach to Alyssa Royse, thank you for inspiring me. To all the other ex-affiliate owners and the athletes they’ve empowered, thank you for standing with me. Because of all of you I can say with pride that in the place I call home Black Lives Matter.