I have been a spectator and borderline obsessive fan of the CrossFit Games, the athletes who compete within the space and the training methodology itself, for five years or so. I spent a few months at Three Aces Training in London for a feature I wrote for the magazine in 2016. Since then, I have consumed as much of the material available on the subject as possible. Much to my greedy pleasure, there is a lot to digest. I’m not a member of an affiliate, but my own sessions and the programmes I have followed are highly influenced by the functional movement standards and workout structures. I spend a lot of time on the Assault Bike and have grasped the basics of Olympic lifting. I have got the hang of toes-to-bar but can’t do more than a few double-unders. I love burpees. In short, I am into it.
Over the last 48 hours, the brand of CrossFit has been in freefall. A racially-insensitive tweet by then CEO Greg Glassman regarding George Flloyd has proven to be the spark that lit an inferno, with everyone from long-standing CrossFit HQ employees, former and current CrossFit Games champions crucial partners and sponsors such as Reebok, Rogue as well as NOBULL and WIT Fitness distancing themselves from the brand.
At time of writing, the number of gyms who are dis-affiliating themselves has reached 1250 globally. Glassman issued an apology and then yesterday retired as CEO, although currently still owns 100% of the business. The former Director of The CrossFit Games, Dave Castro, has since been announced as the new CEO.
Zack George is an elite CrossFit competitor and the current UK National Champion, qualifying for the 2020 CrossFit Games, which would have been his debut were it not for Covid-19 seeing the event necessarily but drastically altered and all national champions cut from inclusion. Zack is also the owner and head coach of an affiliated gym, CrossFit BFG in Leicester.
I spoke to Zack in the wake of the highly-charged upheaval in The Sport Of Fitness for his views and feelings on race, Glassman, the future of CrossFit and his plans to move forward as an athlete and business owner:
“There are not many black guys in CrossFit at the top of the sport. But I’ve never come across any racial abuse or even any racial inkling, either to myself or seen it happen to other athletes or in the community. The community is what made me fall in love with CrossFit. It’s what makes most people fall in love with it. Every gym is a family that all love the sport and that’s what separate us from every other sort of gym.
“I first saw Glassman’s comments on Instagram. It made me really sad. But angry as well, because it doesn’t represent our community. It’s just one man’s view. But anyone from the outside would see that and think that CrossFit is a bit racist. As I say, I’ve never come across anything like that.
“Your initial reaction is anger. You can’t believe that somebody with that much power can come out and say something like that. Shock and anger. So many people have invested so much into the brand. I’m an athlete and an affiliate owner and to dedicate that much time and energy to a brand and for him to come out and say something like that is sad. It’s really sad that the brand can show such little disregard.
“He tweeted to say he was sorry and he shouldn’t have said it but I don’t think you can come back from that. At the front of the brand, we deserve somebody who truly represents what the CrossFit community and brand truly is.
“It’s great to see a lot of athletes with a big profile at the top of sport speaking out. Everyone is making a stand and saying this isn’t acceptable. Within 12 hours, everyone had glued together against Glassman and said that they weren’t going to let him get away with it.
“Dave Castro is an interesting character and it’s small step in the right direction. I think we need give him a chance to step up to the role. The ownership is the issue, though. A lot of the community feels like if Glassman is still the owner, all the affiliate fees and other revenues will still end up in his pockets, which we are not up for at all.
“Maybe if the affiliates were shareholders in the company that would help. CrossFit could be a governing body for the sport rather than an owner, like in most other professional sports. CrossFit has always had issues because one man was making decisions. It would be a positive change for them to be accountable to the community and affiliates.
"As for my affiliate, it’s still very early to make any decisions. We just don’t know. I’m going to wait and see how it pans out over the next few days. If the community all feel that Glassman can’t continue to be the 100% owner then they’ll have to listen. That’s how strong our community is – we’re not going to promote a brand with that sort of person being the beneficiary. More change will happen. That’s how strong our community is. We’re not going to promote a brand with that sort of person behind it. Another change will have to happen."
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