On CrossFit Mean Streets: A Call For a Paradigm Shift

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” —Malcolm S. Forbes

By now, many of you have probably seen Jonathan Maseng’s article in the L.A. Weekly, in which he exposed Crossfit Mean Streets owner Ronnie Teasdale (along with some gym goers) for posing in photos with passed out homeless people, and posting those photos with mocking captions on facebook. The photos are pretty egregious, and also include captions indicating that gym owners found it amusing to see people injure themselves in the gym, and even purposely put a homeless man in a situation where he was likely to injure himself by having him left an Atlas ball with poor form.

I’ll let you look for yourself (if you haven’t already). But what I found just as shocking as the article itself was the slew of commenters (both in the original post and on facebook) rushing to Teasedale’s defense.

The blame for abhorrent behavior, whether that’s mocking people in unfortunate situations, purposely putting people in harm’s way or simply not preventing people from injuring themselves (and finding it hilarious when they do), of course rests with those participated in these actions.

Gym owner Ronnie Teasdale might wish to further than “removing all of the questionable content” to try to change the image of his gym and actually seek the psychological help he desperately needs.

Fellow affiliates might want to stop enabling or making excuses for this type of behavior, as some have. Stating that you don’t endorse such behavior is much more humane than searching for creative ways to justify someone mocking people who are obviously in pain and need help.

Organizations should investigate ethical issues and respond appropriately. And one really good way of doing that is by holding affiliates accountable for their behavior. Another way is to simply issue a statement saying they don’t condone it.

“I’d just like to point out that this article ran on Thursday, and CrossFit HQ has known about this conduct for over a week. As of yet, no one from HQ has even decried the conduct depicted, let alone apologized for it. And as for CrossFit Mean Streets, they still have their affiliate status, and their owner was at the Crossfit Games, yesterday, smiling. Tell me again how this is an isolated problem,” Maseng recently wrote on facebook.

CrossFit attorney Dale Saran has responded by calling the factual article “irresponsible journalism” and saying  the organization is not responsible for policing its affiliates. “We do not have franchisees — we have licensees,” he was quoted as saying.) Yet not condemning someone delighting in the humiliation of others reflects on the organization as a whole–especially when others are kicked out for expressing concerns about quality control or not liking the Zone diet.

A really good way to not have people question your integrity is to demonstrate some.

Really, this article isn’t just about CrossFit. (And it goes without saying that there are many people involved in the organization who are decent people. I know many of them.) But aside from reflecting larger societal issues of arrogant pretension and outright bullying, I find myself wondering whether it many just don’t want to hold people accountable if those people happen to be athletic.

I personally don’t give a rat’s ass how fit someone is if they don’t have moral decency to treat those in unfortunate circumstances with respect. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that being athletic is not a virtue in itself. Sure, it’s natural to admire those who are good at what they do. That’s something many of us do on a regular basis, whether we prefer to watch grappling tournament footage or the Olympic games or any other activity or sport. And certainly its admirable to want to be healthy and strong. But if it’s not helping with character development, then what the hell’s the point?

“Neither are the two arts of music and gymnastics really designed, as is often supposed, the one for the training of the soul, the other for the training of the body,” said the great philosopher Socrates in Plato’s Republic. What is the real object of them? “I believe…that the teachers of both have in view chiefly the improvement of the soul.”

Socrates warned that those focusing exclusively on the athletic often have “a temper of hardness and ferocity” and must guard against savageness and brutality. It must be balanced with gentleness and moderation, so that one is both temperate and courageous instead of growing “feeble and dull and blind, his mind never waking up or receiving nourishment, and his senses not being purged of their mists… and he ends by becoming…uncivilized, like a wild beast, all violence and fierceness, and knows no other way of dealing; and he lives in all ignorance and evil conditions, and has no sense of propriety and grace.”

I’m not trying to single out just one person or one organization here. No action takes place within a vacuum. But perhaps we must all do our part to strive towards a paradigm shift in our culture, where character and ethics are rewarded in the same way that breaking a PR is… where protecting the safety and well-being of children who are victims of abuse is considering more important, to give another recent example, than protecting the reputation of a football program. Where expressing distaste for those who treat homeless people as if they are less than human is more important than protecting the reputation of a gym affiliation.

Of course as a society we view people who save the lives of others or put themselves in harm’s way to help people as heroic, and rightly so. But how you treat others on a smaller scale, in day-to-day situations, is also quite telling. Let’s demonstrate our strength of character as well as our physical strength, working not just to get fit and look hot but also to hold people accountable for disgusting behavior, and to speak out on behalf of the disadvantaged–and to do our part to help.

Each of us has the power to be the change which makes a positive difference in this world.

“To love is to act.” -Victor Hugo

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