There was once a time when the world’s biggest corporations could be blatantly racist and get away with it. For years racist mascots and logos were used by America’s biggest corporations. Some companies perpetuate racism unknowingly and react inappropriately in the face of incidents and, thanks to social media’s power, such mistakes can cost them millions of dollars and industry respect.
A notable fallout in the fitness world happened just this month. On June 9th, Crossfit’s CEO Greg Glassman announced that he was retiring from his position, following the extreme backlash from a tweet made about the death of George Floyd. Although Glassman tweeted a few days later apologizing for the hurt he had caused (‘It was a mistake, but not a racist mistake’), over 1200 gyms have decided to drop the CrossFit name and operate independently. Reebok, one of CrossFit’s biggest sponsors, has announced that they are ending their affiliation with the brand, and now the conversation has shifted to whether CrossFit will survive. As of June 25th, major news outlets are reporting that Glassman will be selling his fitness brand.
To move forward, companies need to eliminate entrenched racist habits and racist ideas from managers, employees, and customers alike. And the fitness industry particularly needs to take heed, addressing under-representation and the strife with controversies regarding unrealistic beauty standards and monoculturalism.
Lauren Leavel, a barre and HIIT instructor based in Philadelphia, says, “Most of my co-workers are white. Most of my clients are white. It’s hard to not notice when I’m in class, and I’m the ONLY person of color at all.”
Chrissy King, a Milwaukee-based certified personal trainer, talks about her experience in Shape magazine. When she entered the industry five years ago, black women’s under-representation was the first thing she noticed. Mainstream media wasn’t elevating black women as participants, trainers, or on the cover of magazines, and the story hasn’t changed much. Last year, Nicole Cardoza, the founder of Yoga Foster and a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, was asked by Yoga Journal to appear on its cover alongside a feature article. Soon after her photo shoot, Yoga Journal released a survey asking their audience, “Which cover do you prefer?” The biggest Yoga magazine in the US doubled back and invited their community to vote between her and a white yoga teacher, providing no names and no context.
Yoga Journal claimed they posted the survey because ‘the data is predictive of newsstand sales.’ In other words, they didn’t think a cover with a black woman would sell!
Though incidents like Nicole’s are the unfortunate truth, there is hope the narrative will change. A couple of years ago, seeing BIPOC/BAME and body-positive influencers in the fitness industry was rare. Now there are inclusive spaces for people of diverse backgrounds and abilities, coming from fitness pros such as Ilya Parker of Decolonizing Fitness and Morgan Dixon of Girl Trek. As Chrissy King put it, “By continuing to show up and create this space for people to move and have a good experience, I hope that more people will feel comfortable showing up completely as themselves.”
People who join gyms and classes want to be a better version of themselves. It shouldn’t matter if they are black, white, brown, overweight, skinny, gay, trans, disabled, or missing a limb. What matters is they are working to improve themselves. Joining a community gives people of diverse backgrounds the support to achieve their goals and a sense of community. I leave you with a quote to take to heart as you evaluate ways to amplify ways and celebrate diversity within your fitness brand. From Heather White, CEO of Trillfit, a hip-hop dance-cardio class in Boston: “It’s our duty to make wellness more inclusive and accessible because people’s lives literally depend on it.”