I am a CrossFit success story and a seven-year member of the community. The functional fitness methodology — and the community attached to it — led me to quit smoking and redefine my relationship with my body and with myself as an athlete (athlete being a word I never felt applied to me until I discovered CrossFit).
But we have issues. And we turned a blind eye and made excuses for too long. I am complicit in that. I regret that it took such a shocking and blatantly racist event for me to turn my activism inward and look more critically at the community that has been such a big part of my life.
But if we don’t start now, then when?
I’m not an elite or sponsored athlete. But I’ve bled, sweat, laughed, competed and cried in our Boxes. I’ve been last to finish and — once in a glorious blue moon — first. I can’t claim to understand the experiences of people of color in CrossFit, but, as an LGBT person in the community before we had a sizable population of out athletes, I have experienced being in a minority and not seeing myself reflected or represented at the top levels of the sport.
My professional background in strategic communications and crisis management tells me that CrossFit is at a crossroads. Right now, the CrossFit brand is toxic, at least within broad swaths of the population. It may be salvageable, but the clock is ticking and Dave Castro’s early tenure as CEO has not inspired hope based on what has been shared publicly with the community.
I see five necessary steps if CrossFit is to have a way forward. (Also reflected in this petition.)
1. NEW OWNERSHIP
Changes are not real if Greg Glassman maintains sole or substantial ownership. CrossFit should transition to a Public Benefit Corporation or affiliate/employee/member-ownership model, with a robust, diverse, and empowered board of directors from the community.
2. FRESH LEADERSHIP
CrossFit has stagnated under its current leadership. Replacing the deeply problematic CEO with a company insider from the old executive team is insulting to those who truly care about this community — especially because Dave Castro is also problematic for a different set of reasons.
In light of revelations from Andy Stumpf and new reporting in the New York Times, CrossFit must release former employees from non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and allow these individuals to speak openly if they desire. And, more than ever, HQ needs leadership that can unite the community, steer the business strategically, articulate and execute a commitment to inclusivity, and reflect positively on the brand.
Sorry, but Dave Castro doesn’t cut it.
3. AN INCLUSIVE, ANTI-RACIST COMMUNITY
“Inclusion is an active effort, not a passive one,” to quote Games athlete Meredith Root. CrossFit has a problem. Of course people from all backgrounds, races, and walks of life have been “allowed” to participate. But we, as a whole community, have allowed ourselves to skate by for too long on “allowing” participation and not seriously pushing ourselves to cultivate a more inclusive, diverse, anti-racist community. This will be a long and hard process, but CrossFit HQ could show its commitment with some initial action steps.
(As of now, they have not.)
4. BRAND AND MISSION CLARITY
CrossFit HQ says its mission is to offer “an elegant solution to the problem of chronic disease.” That mission rings hollow if our primary interventions are expensive gym memberships and periodic beefs with soda brands. Either take up that mission seriously — using the CrossFit training methodology while deploying organizational resources against economic and racial disparities that overlap with and strongly predict chronic disease — or scrap it.
The brand has been incoherent for years. At this point, it may have negative value. If CrossFit is going to continue to exist as a company, or as an overarching brand, it needs a clear mission and a unifying set of values across affiliates.
5. QUALITY CONTROL
CrossFit HQ cannot exist as an L1 certification mill. It reflects poorly on our community — and risks doing harm to those we serve — when unqualified coaches are churned out with undeserved or meaningless certifications. The CrossFit seminar staff has a lot of talented athletes and coaches, but the certification process needs additional quality control for the safety of members and the health and wellbeing of the community.
Seminar staff must be diverse and every course, starting with the L1, must include a component on anti-racism, implicit bias, and inclusivity.
In the CrossFit community, we know that progress must be measurable. Words alone are not enough to prove fitness, nor are they enough to prove a commitment to positive change and anti-racism. Meeting these criteria would show the community that CrossFit HQ is serious about a new direction and that CrossFitters globally can still use the name with pride.
As a member of the community and a person positively impacted by the methodology, I hope the brand can be saved and the community pulled back together with a new focus on being a force for good. But, absent real change, I’m inclined to step away.
And I can’t say that I’ll be sad to see the brand die a slow death.
Zack Rearick, 7-Year CrossFit Affiliate Member currently at CrossFit Conshohocken.