Changing The Ratio: What Not To Do During A Global Anti-Racism Movement

Young people exercising in gym.  Professional sportists. Wearing sports clothing.

With brands around the world joining the chorus of people taking action and demanding racial equality following the killing of George Floyd last month, one company has managed to damage its reputation beyond repair.

Fitness company Crossfit has given the world a guide on what not to do during a global anti-racism movement.

The problem started last week. While thousands of brands took part in #BlackOutTuesday on social media and publicly pledged their support to the cause, Crossfit continued posting as usual, sharing workout videos and promoting its education program.

The silence was deafening – and this was only exacerbated by what happened next,

On Saturday, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman posted a series of tweets referencing Floyd’s death and the coronavirus pandemic, namely using the phrase ‘FLOYD-19’ in response to a tweet about racism (see below).

What’s more, it’s since been revealed Glassman told a nine-year affiliate owner she was “delusional” after she asked Crossfit headquarters to take a stance.

The company has been in damage control ever since.

Over 300 gyms – including a number of Australian facilities – around the world have already started the process of rebranding to distance themselves from the Crossfit name.

Reebok, which has sponsored Crossfit for over a decade and has even had naming rights for the Crossfit Games, announced it would not be renewing the deal.

Glassman has since bowed to pressure and resigned from his role, but it appears much of the damage is already done.

walk vs talk

Saying you support the Black Lives Matter movement is one thing – meaningful action is another.

That’s why a number of brands in the US have come under fire for backing the movement while still sponsoring a controversial Fox News program Tucker Carlson Tonight.

Host Tucker Carlson has repeatedly attacked the Black Lives Matter movement, going so far as to say “this may be a lot of things, this moment we’re living through, but it is definitely not about Black lives”.

Viewers soon pointed out the likes of Disney, Papa John’s Pizza and T-Mobile have all sponsored the show, despite vocalising their support of black lives in recent days.

The show has since had an advertiser walkout – not dissimilar to the boycott of Alan Jones’s radio program last year – as brands distance themselves from the controversial figure.

getting it right

Crossfit appears to be one of the few brands to get their response to the Black Lives Matter movement so wrong.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Crossfit debacle was the criticism surrounding the company’s silence on the matter.

“To be silent is to be complicit. Black lives matter,” Netflix said in a Twitter post.

Netflix was just one major brand to take such a stance.

Nike, Apple, Twitter and Cotton On are just some of the brands to express solidarity with people of colour.

The groundswell of brands supporting the cause has led many to question: “Is this nothing more than a marketing ploy?”

According to Queensland University of Technology senior lecturer Bree Hurst, it’s all significant.

“It’s easy to dismiss these statements as low-cost tokenism or politically correct wokism. It may be there’s a hard-headed business decision behind each message, weighing the costs and benefits to the bottom line,” Hurst said.

“But my research (and that of others) suggests there’s a growing need for what business academics call ‘political corporate social responsibility’ (or PCSR).

Hurst pointed to research that shows a third of consumers will buy from brands whose political and social values align with their own, and about a quarter of consumers boycott brands that don’t.

“The concept of PCSR arises out of a wider paradigm shift in thinking about the responsibilities private businesses owe society,” she said.

“A traditional view – famously advocated by Nobel prize winning US economist Milton Friedman – is that a business, so long as it obeys the law, is only obliged to maximise profits for it shareholders. Nothing else.

“The uptake of PCSR by so many other companies in support of Black Lives Matter is significant. But it is only the start of an evolution that corporate America must make to shake accusations of tokenism.”

Special thanks to CHE Proximity and Adrenalin Media for making this content series possible.


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