I'm a Black Gym Owner. Here's Why I'm Cutting Ties with CrossFit

André Crews
Photo credit: André Crews

From Men's Health

The CrossFit community is reeling after the company's founder and CEO Greg Glassman was forced to retire from his position following uproar over his racist public and private comments regarding George Floyd. As athletes like Mat Fraser denounced the company and others like Katrin Davidsdottir called for even more sweeping changes (Glassman still retains ownership in CrossFit Inc. and much of the company's leadership structure remains in place), many local gym owners began the process of disaffiliating themselves from the corporate entity.

André Crews is one of those gym owners. As the head of Jersey City's 150BayFit, Crews knew he was done with CrossFit as soon as he caught wind of Glassman's comments. Here, he shares why he's cutting ties with CrossFit in his own words—and what hopes he has for the future.

The first time I worked out in a CrossFit box, I felt like I couldn't breathe.

I was at CrossFit NYC getting my Level 1 Certificate. At the end of our first day, the seminar staff had us do the CrossFit benchmark workout “Fran” which involves completing 45 thrusters (squat into overhead press at 95 lbs) and 45 pull-ups as fast as humanly possible.

About 45 reps into the 90 rep workout, my heart was racing, my body was shaking, and my lungs were burning. Seven minutes and 10 seconds later, I finished my last pull-up of the workout then collapsed to the ground.

My throat felt hot and cold at the same time.

I started coughing.

And I thought I couldn’t breathe.

But after a few minutes I got up, high-fived a few fellow athletes, drank some water, and was back to normal within the hour. Although elite CrossFit athletes can finish Fran around two minutes, I felt overwhelmingly proud of what I had accomplished. Back then, I looked up to the leadership at CrossFit HQ for their knowledge in movement, nutrition, and exercise science. I was truly excited for my future in the CrossFit community, and I went on to start 150 Bay CrossFit in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Seven years and three months later, George Floyd was choked out for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Most companies, organisations, and humans around the world responded with an outpouring of heartbreak and support for social justice and equality. Yet CrossFit HQ remained ostentatiously silent. Thirteen days later, CrossFit owner and CEO Greg Glassman tweeted “FLOYD-19.” And sure, he’s since stepped down as CrossFit CEO, but that’s not stopping me from leaving CrossFit. Dave Castro is now in charge, but understand this: Greg Glassman still owns CrossFit.

I first saw Glassman’s tweet the day after. I was disgusted, disappointed, appalled, infuriated… pissed off. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt. The pillar of leadership, thoughtful philosophy, and fitness expertise I once looked up to crumbled with a single tweet.

I immediately turned to my wife and somberly said, “We’re not with CrossFit anymore.”

I still needed to gather more information, but once I’d studied the situation, the callous insensitivity and overt racism of the tweet made my decision a no-brainer. Glassman had invoked the name of a man who was essentially executed while begging for his life and attached it to a virus that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

I should be in disbelief that the owner and CEO of an organisation that I loved, respected, and owed the start of my business to could say something so heartless.

But the truth is…

As a Black man, I am never truly surprised when a white man says or does something terrible and racist. Our country was literally built on the backs of Black men and women. And the deep-seeded systemic racism is still evident in our economic disparities, educational inequities, criminal justice system, and government policies.

So it is not shocking to me that racism exists at the highest levels in the fitness industry.

The next day I learned more. I heard that on a private Zoom call with a few affiliate owners, Glassman said: “We're not mourning for George Floyd — I don't think me or any of my staff are.” And regarding worldwide protests, he mused: “I doubt very much that they’re mourning for Floyd. I don’t think that there’s a general mourning for Floyd in any community.”

Greg Glassman may have founded CrossFit, but he is a cancerous hand in the CrossFit community. For years he pointed CrossFit’s operations, programming, and education in a meaningful direction. But within the last three years, he backhanded employees by firing the entire CrossFit HQ marketing team. He backhanded affiliate owners by deleting CrossFit’s two million follower social media account which was used to promote affiliates around the world. And he backhanded athletes by eliminating worldwide Regionals Events, which were another platform for athletes and affiliate owners to showcase their talents and attract new members and clients.

But thankfully, Greg Glassman is not attached to a vital organ. He is nowhere near the heart and soul of the CrossFit community.

There is not yet a cure for coronavirus. There is also not yet a solution to police brutality against Black people. But there is a known effective treatment for malignant tumours on our society: You cut them off. That’s what we need to do to Glassman.

Glassman may have created the marketing strategy, and he may have helped popularise to the 21-15-9 rep scheme. But we as a community of bankers, bartenders, engineers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, first responders, teachers, stay at home moms, and fitness professionals... WE are the fitness community that made all that work.

Photo credit: André Crews

We put in the reps every day. We sweat. We bleed. We rip. And sometimes, we cry. And within our communities, we’ve made drinking buddies, best friends, and even life partners.

Greg Glassman has been slowly killing the name CrossFit over the last few years. His tweet just let us know what was in his heart. It also provided a necessary nail in the coffin.

Group fitness will continue. But racism must end.

To all affiliate owners and athletes, I implore you to examine your heart and do what is right. Greg Glassman may have “retired” from the role of CEO. But as of today he still owns CrossFit.

We can all continue to lead our communities in functional fitness without paying $3,000 to a racist megalomaniac every year.

My gym, 150 BayFit, will be here for at least the next two decades—we have a long term lease. Our training philosophy is, and has always been: Move Well. Lift Heavy. Breathe Hard! We will continue to squat below parallel, hone our Olympic lifting technique, improve our gymnastics strength and skill, lift heavy sh*t, and do more burpees than we care to count.

And periodically, we will retest our Fran time.

We will continue to Move Well, Lift Heavy, and Breathe Hard! But we will do so without paying money to an organisation founded and owned by a man who has no regard for people’s physical, mental, emotional, financial, or mortal wellbeing.

So if you live in Jersey City, come check us out. And if you live somewhere else, Google “functional fitness gym” Go support a local business, get fit as hell, and make some amazing friends in the process.

We will survive without CrossFit. CrossFit cannot survive without us!

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