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.

6 Comments on “Stolen Symbolism

  1. Becky

    Thanks Jon,
    You guys have lead with so much quiet strength, humility and grace. I know it’s had it’s cost. I know it’s hurt. But you are doing a good job.
    The Keller’s would follow you through the gates of hell because we know you wouldn’t do something that wasn’t necessary and we know you have the capacity to lead us back out.
    Thanks for sharing your story and making it personal. We feel the same. We support the police. We understand the original intention of these symbols but their perversion is undeniable too. I have to look at my black brother in laws and I have to protect them. I want them to feel safe. Thank you for making that a priority at Evolve.
    Forever grateful,

    1. Rochelle

      Thank you Becky for always having the words to convey how many of us feel❤️

      Thank you Jon this, thank you for doing the research and knowing what you don’t know and being willing to ask the questions. I think more people need to be willing to have the conversations.

      1. Malaney

        Thank you for taking the time to question and learn more. To me that is what matters the most. You educated yourself even though you were initally upset. I also appreciate every ounce of honesty put into this post. I wish that those flags purpose had not been stolen.

  2. Nancy Binks-Lyman

    I agree 100% with everything Becky shared!

    Personal stories are the key to learning, understanding, and moving towards racial equality. But it takes courage to be vulnerable, to share our emotions and frailties. The action of the gym owners to remove the flags along with your personal story, Jon, represents vulnerability and integrity in its’ highest form.

    Thank you for sharing, Jon. It encourages us all to do the same.


    P.S. If you haven’t watched Brene Browns (18) minute TED talk on vulnerability, I promise it is worth the time.

  3. Jessica

    Thank you Jon. For your heartfelt words and willingness to learn. Also, thanks to all of the coaches and owners at CrossFit Evolve for being willing and open to learn and make positive changes at the gym, and for the community. 2020 is a sucktastic year for so many and we are all learning and growing as a result. I am certainly struggling with my own stuff and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without the love and support I get from the Evolve Community. I ❤️ my gym.

  4. Alyssa

    I have watched Evolve from a distance during this challenging time and I continue to be impressed by the growth and humility shown. It takes a lot to stand up for those we love when we know there will be unintended costs. I hope to join the crew again someday. I don’t think any other gym deserves support as much as you do.


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