CrossFit's climate of denial

The venn diagram of climate denial and racism continues to overlap.

White people exercise outside a CrossFit gym. Photo by Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.


Today I want to talk about CrossFit. You know, the church of fast exercising. The shirtless jocks who run laps during lunch.

Full disclosure: I belonged to that church (and am arguably still one of those jocks) until earlier this week. Amid racist tweets and statements from the brand’s founder, more than 1,000 CrossFit gyms—including mine—announced they’d be disaffiliating, dropping the CrossFit name and the $3,000 yearly affiliate fee.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m not even a member anymore, and I still can’t stop talking about CrossFit? Fair.

But if you bear with me, I swear I’ll make this relevant to climate change, which is the focus of this newsletter. We do need to get through an initial backstory, though, so I’ll go as fast as I can. Or as we say at the gym: I’ll do it for time.

CrossFit’s swift, spectacular downfall

Last week, Seattle-based CrossFit gym owner Alyssa Royse wrote to CrossFit founder and then-CEO Greg Glassman, expressing disappointment that the brand hadn’t yet made a statement on George Floyd’s death. Because of that and other issues (read: CrossFit is extremely white and refuses to do anything about it), the owner said her gym would likely disaffiliate.

In response, Glassman called Royse a series of names. He also took offense to the notion that CrossFit’s silence made it racist. “You’re doing your best to brand us as racist and you know it’s bullshit,” Glassman wrote. “That makes you a really shitty person.”

It was an interesting choice of words, given the events of the next day—when Glassman did a racist tweet about George Floyd's death.

Glassman also did another racist thing a few days later, telling a black affiliate owner in Minneapolis that he and CrossFit’s national-level staff were “not mourning George Floyd” because there was no reason to do so other than “pressure.”

It wasn’t until CrossFit started losing lots of money that Glassman issued an apology. The apology said CrossFit would not stand for racism, and that Glassman made a mistake. It denied, however, that Glassman’s mistake was racist.

The apology did not work. More than 1,000 gyms disaffiliated, and big brands dropped lucrative sponsorships. So in a last ditch to stop the bleeding, Glassman announced his retirement as CEO, and CrossFit Games director Dave Castro announced he’d be taking Glassman’s place. The entire CrossFit headquarters team issued an apology statement, too.

But neither Glassman’s announcement, Castro’s statement, or the CrossFit HQ team’s apology acknowledged any of Glassman’s remarks were racist.

In fact, the word “racist” appeared only once in the three statements—in the CrossFit HQ team’s apology.

“This team is anti-racist,” it read.

Greenwashing, but for racism

Some of y’all might to throw the computer across the room when I say this. But I’m gonna say it anyway: What CrossFit is doing on race right now is exactly what fossil fuel companies are doing on climate change. It’s greenwashing, but for racism. And that’s why it’s not working to save them.

(I’d say Blackwashing, but apparently that’s already a thing, and I do *not* feel comfortable coining that term).

Think about it. In both cases, public opinion is rapidly shifting out of these companies’ favor. Both are losing what’s known in the fossil fuel industry as “societal license to operate.” Societal license is necessary for any company to remain profitable. Without public sympathy, neither will survive.

This is why both CrossFit and the fossil fuel industry are suddenly aligning themselves with the social causes that once threatened to destroy them. The world’s biggest carbon emitters now fight climate change. The whitest sport in the country is now anti-racist.

(And yes, CrossFit is the whitest sport in the country; 86 percent of participants list their ethnicity as white. That’s a higher percentage of white participants than golf.)

But the reason people don’t believe the fossil fuel industry’s promises about climate change is the same reason people don’t believe CrossFit about its promise to be anti-racist. Both refuse to acknowledge the true harm they have caused, particularly to Black communities. They do this to avoid having to do anything to address that harm. They do this to avoid real accountability.

Fossil fuel companies didn’t just emit a lot of carbon. They funded disinformation and policy delay for decades, and continue to do so today. Instead of acknowledging that, though, they made climate promises they knew they couldn’t keep, and ran ads containing more disinformation about their efforts to fight the climate crisis.

By the same token, CrossFit’s leadership didn’t just stay silent on George Floyd. They made actively racist statements, and have perpetuated a discriminatory culture that Black people have complained about for nearly a decade. Instead of acknowledging that, though, they instilled a new CEO with a history of ignoring racial problems and put out a statement claiming to be anti-racist.

I understand why companies do this. It’s much easier to skirt your responsibility for a problem than to do the hard work required to solve it.

But if CrossFit taught me anything, it’s that cheating on the workout only keeps you from getting stronger—and compromises the hard, legitimate work of everyone else.

Oh, also, Glassman and Castro both appear to be climate deniers

The fight for racial justice mirrors the fight against climate change in so many ways. We can often apply the lessons we learn from one fight to the other. Often, they are the same fight.

Also, in many cases, the same people who resist racial justice (or are silent on it) are the same ones who deny climate change. And based on past statements, CrossFit’s former CEO and current CEO each appear to fall into that category.

Glassman, for example, has used CrossFit’s platform explicitly to promote climate denial. He hired his father, Jeffrey Glassman, to be the Chief Scientists of CrossFit—and allowed him to publish false claims that global warming was caused by the sun. (Jeffrey Glassman also has one of those absolutely batshit-looking websites dedicated to fringe climate denial theory).

As for Castro, the new CEO, well…

September 24, 2018

That Venn diagram just keeps getting bigger, huh.

Related/additional reading

NOT ALL CROSSFITTERS. But actually, though. It’s been really heartening to see so many gyms and prominent athletes mobilize to take meaningful action on Black lives.

I particularly want to shout out my gym, Balance Functional Fitness, which announced its disaffiliation swiftly after Glassman’s remarks and opened its space up to protesters in D.C. over the weekend to eat, charge their phones, and use the restroom. I’m very proud to be part of this community of fast exercisers!!

SYSTEMIC RACISM DRIVES PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEMS. From Stat News: “Today, Black people in the U.S. are more likely than white people to live in food deserts, with limited access to fresh fruit or vegetables. They are less likely to be able to access green spaces, and more likely to live in areas without clean water or air. Black children are more likely to grow up in high-poverty areas. Black adults are more frequently exposed to greater occupational hazards, often working in frontline jobs across many fields.

The list goes on. All of these factors shape health, and all are shaped by structural racism.”

CLIMATE CHANGE AND POLICE BRUTALITY ARE DIRECTLY LINKED.” “When Eric Garner was killed in 2014, he stated the same words that we now have heard from George Floyd: ‘I can’t breathe.’” the Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr. tells Bill McKibben. “But one of the things that’s important to know about Eric Garner is that he had asthma, as did most people in the Garner family, including his daughter Erica, who would die after suffering an asthma-induced heart attack and a broken heart fighting for justice for her father.

“Even though Eric Garner was killed by an illegal choke hold by the New York City Police Department, it’s important to note that the borough he lived in (which has the highest tree density in N.Y.C.) also received an F for ozone pollution, per the American Lung Association’s 2018 report. The way that we can actually fight pollution and police brutality is by fighting them together.”

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED! This is the last newsletter of the week. I’ll see you on Monday.

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