Until they replace the sign out front, the two strips of black tape forming an “X” over the name of the gym Alyssa Royse and her husband Brady Collins have run for the last decade will have to do.
Royse and Collins own Rocket Community Fitness in Seattle’s Hillman City neighborhood. But until this month, that gym was known as Rocket CrossFit, and had been a CrossFit affiliate for nine years until its owners decided to rebrand after noting CrossFit corporate’s lack of a response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
On June 3, Royse sent a letter to CrossFit’s chief advisor Brian Mulvaney informing him of her business’s name change. She cited a lack of leadership and the absence of a response to Floyd’s death as the reason for disassociating from CrossFit Inc. — the company that pioneered the eponymous multidisciplinary fitness regimen and philosophy now practiced by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide through a network of affiliate gyms.
“Let’s be clear, your silence IS taking a stand,” Royse wrote in the letter. “You are standing in silence on the side of history that Brady and I cannot stand on.”
Royce’s letter prompted a chain of events that, less than a week later, resulted in the resignation of CrossFit co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Greg Glassman. Glassman announced his departure on June 9 after widespread criticism for racist comments he made publicly and in a Zoom meeting with CrossFit employees that an employee recorded secretly and released to the media.
Royse said her initial letter was meant to warn CrossFit that its mishandling of racial injustice was a problem, but she didn’t expect the furor it sparked or the intensification after Glassman’s comments.
“I opened a door and I turned on a light and then Greg Glassman showed us what was in there,” she said.
As of press time, CrossFit Inc. has not responded to emailed requests for comment.
Rocket is a social justice-oriented fitness community, Royse said, and isn’t new to publicly pressuring CrossFit over ignorance on social issues. Royse worked closely with CrossFit leadership in 2018 to remove a policy barring transgender athletes from competing in the annual CrossFit Games. So CrossFit’s lack of an appropriate response to Floyd’s death last month disappointed her.
“We were able to stay loyal to CrossFit because they had been able to rise to the challenges that society had handed them,” she said. “Something was different this time. I don’t know what.
In the weeks since Floyd’s death, many national corporations including Apple, Google, Walmart, Bank of America, Lululemon and Nike, have publicly voiced support for the Black Lives Matter movement through statements, policy changes and large donations.
CrossFit remained silent. Glassman did not.“You’re doing your best to brand us as racist and you know it’s bullshit,” he wrote in an email response to Royse. He also called her delusional, and signed off by saying he was ashamed of her.
When Royse opened it, she laughed. Her original plan was to rebrand the gym but remain an affiliate — affiliates pay CrossFit Inc. $3,000 annually to use the brand “CrossFit” in their name — but the email made it clear to Royse and Collins that they could no longer associate with the company.
Royse posted the letter and a screenshot of Glassman’s email to Rocket Community Fitness’s blog on June 5, where it spread widely around CrossFit social media circles and intensified criticism of the company and Glassman’s behavior.
The next day, Glassman referred to systemic racism and discrimination as “FLOYD-19” in a widely criticized tweet. In a Zoom call hours earlier, he had told some affiliate gym owners and the company’s director of media that he and his staff weren’t mourning for Floyd.
“Can you tell me why I should mourn for him? Other than that it’s the white thing to do,” he said on the 75-minute call, a recording of which was leaked to BuzzFeed News.
Glassman’s comments and the company’s silence led to a wave of athletes, gyms and corporate sponsors denouncing Crossfit.
“My moral compass and the values I stand for make it an easy decision for me to make: I AM OUT,” Icelandic athlete and two-time CrossFit Games champion Katrin Davidsdottir wrote in an Instagram post. Reebok, a title sponsor for the CrossFit Games and the company’s official retailer, cut ties and pulled its sponsorship.
After Glassman’s resignation last week, CrossFit Inc. released a public apology for his statements, acknowledging they were “incredibly insensitive and hurtful,” and emphasized its commitment to diversity and inclusion, while trying to explain why it had not shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement before.
“We weren’t sure how to get the message right, and as a result, we failed catastrophically by not effectively communicating care for the Black community, all as the online world was watching and experiencing extreme pain,” CrossFit Inc. said in its post.
In the Seattle area, multiple gyms, including StoneWay CrossFit in Queen Anne, CrossFit Hinge in South Park and CrossFit Loft in West Seattle, have followed Rocket’s lead in cutting ties with the company and changing their names to reflect this.
The stakes of disaffiliation differ for each gym. Smaller gyms risk losing the valuable draw of a well-known brand on the sign, but others can cut ties and retain their well-established communities.
Some such as Loft already offer CrossFit next to other options including yoga and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes. They’ve become more a boutique fitness gym and less an associate of a large corporation.
“It might seem like this is changing gyms right now, but this change has been happening,” said Loft owner Bethany Pappas. “We think of ourselves as a place for people to do many things and CrossFit is one of them.”
Despite Crossfit’s public apology, Royse says Rocket Community Fitness won’t be part of the company as long as Glassman makes money off it. (According to multiple media reports, Glassman bought out his estranged ex-wife and co-founder Lauren Jenai’s stake in the company in 2012 and holds full ownership of CrossFit’s stock.)
Pappas said Loft will consider re-affiliating with CrossFit if the company takes action to support social justice, and if Glassman isn’t one of its owners, but she won’t add the brand back to her gym’s name.
“There’s a lot of pride that goes along with the word ‘CrossFit,’ and people look to it and they associate you with it,” she said. “The values have to match.”
Clare Megathlin, a Rocket member for seven years, praised the gym for its actions.
“It shows a willingness to step in the box and stand up for creating a community that everybody can be a part of,” she said.
In the last couple of weeks, thousands of people — from athletes to other former-affiliate gym owners — have sent Royse messages thanking her for her letter to CrossFit leadership.
But she said she doesn’t want to be seen as a white savior, just as the first person to speak out.
“It’s not because of my letter, it’s because of the racism,” Royse said. “It’s because of the absolute disdain for the lives of Black people that was on display in that Zoom call and that tweet.”