The roots of CrossFit are found in the various military branches, police, and fire. In the earliest days, the majority of CrossFit practitioners were training to get better at their professions, and CF was the most effective methodology that translated to what we do at work. It still is. We’ve had coaches and athletes throughout our 10+ years who were active or retired representing all of the military branches, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, flight medics, park rangers, wildland firefighters and any other profession or organization where service is at the core. Over the years, like many CrossFit gyms, we accumulated flags to pay homage to these public servants who are our roots.
Several weeks ago I was told that the Don’t Tread on Me Flag has been used by white supremest groups. I had never heard this before. Obviously this was not the original connotation of the flag, but a little research on my part showed its repurposing. We also know now that the thin blue line flag has been repurposed in a way far different from the original meaning. The owners had discussion on if the flags should remain or if we should consider taking them down. An important piece to this story is that at no time did any member request that we take anything down. We had this discussion in the context of what we feel is the right thing to do, not catering to complaints or making decisions to benefit the business.
As our country has been forced into the inevitable discussion of race and racism, I understood early that myself as a white man has no clue. I grew up in the northeast not far from New York City, I went to a college in North Carolina that was racially diverse, and I feel like I have been exposed to a lot of different races and cultures in my life. But I also recognize that that doesn’t put me in a position to truly understand. My initial reaction to the flag question was “fuck them, they can’t take something that means something positive and steal it and make it mean something else.” I was pissed off and I thought about it constantly. I also realized I needed another perspective.
I have a very close friend who is a black man. We work together, we have been though a lot of things together over the years, and I care about him and his family. I have leaned on him to learn about what he and his family have experienced throughout their lives and what things are like for them now. When I have questions related to race that I want to understand better, I ask him. We’ve had many conversations and I have learned a lot from him. I always feel awkward asking him these questions, and I feel awkward writing this right now, but he encouraged the conversations and he encouraged this post, because he feels that these conversations will lead to positive change.
I went to him, told him about our flags, told him what I had learned about them, and asked questions. It was a long discussion, but I can sum it up quickly. To him, these flags no longer mean what they were originally intended to. They have a new meaning, and one that to him represents hate. He told me how they make them feel when he sees them. He told me why. He knows me, several of our members, and what’s in our hearts. However, that doesn’t change the new repurposed symbolism of those flags. After that conversation I learned what I could never have learned on my own or from someone who looks like me.
This is not about business. This is not about catering to complaints. This is not about politics. This is not about being against our Country. This is not about being against the Police, who I work with hand in hand on a daily basis, who are some of the finest people I know, and who I’m grateful to because they have saved my ass on calls that went sideways on numerous occasions. It is none of those things. The decision to take them down was made because flying those flags hurts and represents hate to someone who I care about. It is nothing more than that, but that was enough for me. I have to be able to look at my family, look at my kids, and look at my friend, and know that I’m doing right by all of them. I also have to be able to look at myself and know that I’m trying really hard to do what’s right, not what’s easy.