CrossFit, Systemic Oppression, & Why I Left

I shared in a recent post  (Kissing CrossFit Goodbye) that I had decided to walk away from CrossFit as a brand, and that I had hopes that my box would de-affiliate from CrossFit HQ.  Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, that did not happen.  Which meant I had to make the difficult decision to remain aligned with my values and leave the box.  Today, I want to talk about a subject that is often misunderstood; systemic oppression and racism. I also want to share more about the reason I decided to leave CrossFit, even though my personal experience with several CrossFit boxes was extremely positive and anything but racist or sexist.

The Whirlwind of Bullshit

This has been a really fast transition, and honestly a huge whirlwind for me.  On Monday I heard about the email, Zoom, and tweet that lead me to believe that Greg Glassman was not a person I wanted to be affiliated with.  His words, actions, and statements were insensitive and racist, and it absolutely disgusted me.  I knew that I would not continue to financially contribute to Greg Glassman in anyway in that moment.

Then he stepped down as CEO, and for the briefest of minutes I thought, “maybe.”  Maybe I could keep participating in the sport I loved.  And then I started to do my research, and pretty quickly realized that Glassman would retain his position as owner, meaning he would continue to financially profit from the CrossFit brand.  And he would also continue to have a strong voice in CrossFit leadership.  Un-freaking-acceptable.

And then, I listened to the podcast.  The one by Andy Stumpf, who previously worked at CrossFit HQ with Greg and Dave Castro.  He shared what sounds like a very honest account of the culture experienced in CrossFit HQ.  A culture of racism, sexism, suppression, and intimidation.  An experience that has been seemingly supported by others who have left the company, including Nicole Carroll.

As I listened to the podcast, I honestly just kept thinking “what the hell have I been a part of?!”  Right after I finished, I sent my best friend a text with the podcast that said, “that awkward moment when you start to question if you’ve been participating in bank rolling a cult leader.”  Because, honestly, the culture described sounds a whole hell of a lot like a freaking cult.

And I know cults.  I listen to all the true podcasts known to man.  I even took a college class on serial killers and cults.  Don’t worry, I’m mostly normal.  Just a fan of murder. Not, however, a fan of racism and sexism.

But aside from the fact that I was REPULSED by the accounts I was hearing, there’s a bigger reason that I decided to leave.  The reason that I left can be summed up in two words; systemic oppression.

Systemic Oppression

The definition of system oppression is the mistreatment of people within a specific group, supported and enforced by society and its institutions. Within an organization it refers to oppression that is supported by leadership.  It only exists in environments where individuals are either complicit in the belief system, or are so suppressed that they feel unsafe to express their dissenting opinion.

It only exists because it is unchallenged, or at least not challenged enough.  This was the culture that existed within CrossFit HQ.  When racist and sexist comments were made by Glassman, and probably plenty of others within leadership, anyone who did not accept them were shunned or removed from the organization.  It becomes an echo-chamber of bigotry.  See how it starts to sound pretty culty? 

What happened when someone questioned Manson? Or Jim Jones?  Public shaming and humiliation within the community.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot more to a cult-pie than just systemic oppression, but it’s a cornerstone. The cult crust, if you will.  And the unfortunate reality is that there is only one way to overturn systemic oppression.  To completely remove all leadership that supported it, and replace them with others who are motivated to change the culture.

So now I have to ask myself, does Greg Glassman stepping down from his position of CEO and retaining ownership of CrossFit, Inc lead me to believe that the leadership culture will change?  No, not in the slightest.

Which is why I am not ok to keep supporting the organization.  I am not ok with supporting CrossFit, Inc financially.  Primarily, I won’t allow my monthly membership to funnel to affiliate dues, which financially benefit the company.  I also won’t be buying anything that is released from CrossFit, Inc.

But more than financial support, I think it’s even more important to myself to discontinue promoting an organization that has a culture of bigotry and suppression.  Through my blog, my statements, or my membership.  Because honestly, any time I post about going to a CrossFit box, what I am saying intrinsically is that I support the organization.

The belief that just because I am not racist or sexist, or that my box culture isn’t one that promotes racism or sexism, is enough is not enough for me.  Because if I am truly not ok with racism or sexism, I cannot support or promote an organization that is.  The whole reason why systemic issues continue is because individuals who know shit is wrong can’t or won’t say anything.  And leadership continues to operate in the same way for the rest of time.

I have never experienced racism in any box that I have ever worked out in.  I have felt respected, included, and supported for my entire CrossFit career.  But it isn’t about the individual cultures.  For me, it’s about saying this shit is unacceptable in 2020, and I believe it strongly enough to refuse to be a part of it in anyway.  Even if that means leaving a sport that I absolutely love.

The Line

Because we all have a line that we have to draw.  One that separates what we find acceptable from what we don’t.  If it had been discovered that CrossFit, Inc was supporting human trafficking, or murder for hire, or child labor, would athletes continue to CrossFit just because their box didn’t sell kidneys or guns?  Probably not.  Because deep down, we all understand that participating in something is promoting it and saying that we find it acceptable, even if externally we don’t.

That line exists.  And I’m not here to judge anyone on where they decide to draw their lines.  My own moral compass has been known to not always calibrate true north.  I’m a flawed human being, and I screw up and make decisions I regret.  But I know where my lines are.  Lines that I have drawn firmly in stone.  The things I will not tolerate or be a part of in anyway.

And for me those lines include oppression, racism, sexism, and bigotry.  So no matter how much I loved the sport, the programming, the community I experienced, and the boxes I was a part of, my line is drawn.  I won’t support the culture of CrossFit HQ, and until there is a RADICAL change in leadership, I won’t support an affiliated box.

So for now, it will just be me and the free weights at my local gym.  And while it’s not where I would want to be in an ideal world, I have to acknowledge the reality that I don’t live in an ideal world.

I know where my lines are drawn, and I know enough to make mindful, conscious decisions that are in line with my values.  And that serves me more than any workout of the day ever would.

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