It has been a season of scandals and change over at CrossFit HQ. Several weeks ago, I shared that I had made the difficult decision to leave CrossFit after hearing about the incredibly toxic and oppressive climate within CrossFit HQ. While I had never personally experienced any racism or sexism inside the boxes I have been a member of, I just did not feel like I could continue to support the brand in any way. And honestly, I felt like the only way difficult changes were going to happen is if boxes and members took strong stands. But what does it look like for CrossFit post Greg Glassman?
Well, a lot remains to be seen, but I’m cautiously optimistic that needed changes will happen. For me, leaving was hard. I struggled with feeling let down and lied to, and I’d be lying if I said those feelings didn’t impact my motivation in the gym. And then I started thinking about box owners all over the world, and I was curious how some owners were handling the difficult decisions they were facing.
So I reached out to the owners of 3rd Element Fitness. I was a member for several years there before my family moved to south Texas, and I’ve been really impressed by their commitment to being vocal about the ethical issues happening in CrossFit and all over the country. One of the owners was kind enough to get back to me and share why they felt the hard decisions were important, what they were doing to support their members, and what the future of the affiliation status might look like now that Greg Glassman is (hopefully) completely out of the picture.
Shortly after all of the information against Glassman made it’s way into the media, 3rd Element Fitness announced that they would be one of the many gyms de-affiliating from the CrossFit brand. When I asked the owner, Chris, why that was the direction they chose, he told me that they, “could not stand for or support his (Glassman’s) business with our affiliation and money towards that partnership as long as he was in charge. We have always been a very inclusive and understanding box and did not feel his views and comments mirrored our own views and beliefs for our gym and us personally so separating ourselves from Greg was an easy choice to make.”
Which was pretty much in line with why I chose to leave as an athlete. We all vote with our dollars. And I was not going to allow any of my dollars go to funding a business model that did not support women staff, and was owned an operated by a bigot. You can’t force a person to learn or grow or change, but you can decide not to continue to contribute to their retirement account.
Logistically, me leaving the box simply meant sending an email saying “adios,” along with a few choice words that I won’t post publicly. But from a business perspective, I knew de-affiliating could entail a few more hurdles. Chris shared that the biggest challenged 3rd Element faced was stepping away from the “CrossFit” brand, since a majority of their membership found them through their affiliation. CrossFit is a well-known sport. People have faith in the programming and model. There’s built-in trust in the method.
But when you are no longer a “CrossFit” box, you lose some of that marketing and credibility to customers who don’t know you. In my opinion, being willing to take a potential financial hit from attracting fewer new customers is a bold move. You have to really trust in your programming, staff, and gym atmosphere. You have to know that you provide a product so great that your members will do the marketing for you. And you have to be really firm in your moral compass calibration to leave potential money on the table to stand up for what you think is right.
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Now, in full transparency, there are other obstacles that several boxes have publicly discussed. Issues with insurance, trainer certifications, and programming. Is de-affiliating difficult for some boxes? Yes. But trainers can obtain group fitness certifications for less than $300 (WAY less than an L-1), and there are plenty of options when it comes to obtaining insurance and programming. I’m only pointing this out to make the statement that it’s 100% possible, if the box was motivated.
While many athletes publicly stepped away from the CrossFit brand during this time, there were boxes and athletes who were vocally in support of CrossFit. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and some people felt like statements made by Glassman weren’t concerning. Not everyone views systemic racism and sexism as a problem. Wrong or right, I was curious if 3rd Element Fitness had encountered any negativity from their members after their decision to de-affiliate.
Fortunately, Chris shared that they “received overwhelming support from our members. I cannot count how many times someone came up to us and expressed how grateful they were that the gym they go to is part of the solution and put their voice and money behind such a great cause.” And in my opinion, that tells me that they’ve attracted the right kinds of members.
In recent weeks, CrossFit Inc has issued statements that CrossFit is being purchased by an affiliate owner, Eric Roza. He released a public statement via instagram that honestly has me hopeful that maybe under new leadership a new culture will emerge and thrive. Soon after Nicole Carroll, who has been very vocal about her decision to walk away from employment at CrossFit HQ, released a statement that she would be returning. All of this gives me hope.
Hope that maybe in the future I will feel comfortable walking back into a box and paying an admittedly exorbitant amount to enjoy fitness. Hopeful that I will feel peace in knowing that my money is supporting a company I have full faith and trust in. I asked Chris if he had any considerations about re-affiliating in the future.
He shared that it’s possible, but 3rd Element Fitness has a few things they would like to see change, first. “There still are a lot of changes we would like to see like creating a more diverse and inclusive community worldwide within Crossfit. Making an effort into creating a culture of inclusion in their own messaging, branding, social media, etc. making people of all races, religions, creeds, etc. feel like they are a part of and can be a part of a predominantly white male fitness regime would be a good place to start.”
He also told me want boxes to have more a voice in the company culture; more collaboration rather than just receiving information. In my opinion, I think a more collaborative culture could have prevented a lot of the problems that were present in the company. It’s hard to be oppressive in the presence of true partnership; it’s a lot easier when there’s a veil of separation to hide behind.
I honestly admire the way that 3rd Element Fitness has advocated for their members, put their community first, and has been willing to make potential sacrifices to do so. As for me, there are also a few things I want to see before making any decisions on returning to CrossFit. I’d love to see a publicaly available corrective action plan that outlines the steps that will be taken to change the culture at CrossFit, Inc. Because honestly, culture is hard to change, and it takes a lot of intentional work.
I’m also hopeful that the organization will become more of a joint effort and two way relationship with the boxes that faithfully support the company. There are a lot of ways the company can support BIPOC, women, non-binary identifying individuals, and other marginally represented groups. Things like creating a diversity board, ensuring there is more representation within their leadership structure, and finding organizations like OutWOD to partner with.
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Once the dust settles and more transparent information is available to the public, I’ll make my decision. Until then, I’ll keep hogging the squat rack at LifeTime Fitness and supporting causes and organizations that resonate with my belief system. And hopefully that means being able to drop in to 3rd Element Fitness for a class or two the next time I’m in town (COVID has to relent at some point, right?!).