On the evening of Nov. 20, two sheriff’s deputies and a health inspector entered a facility in Buffalo, New York. The area was under an executive order barring nonessential gatherings of more than 10 people due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there were roughly 100 people inside the venue that night.
At first, the confrontation was tense but restrained. One man yelled that the officials were on private property and had to leave, but another man at least tried to seem persuasive. “We’re asking to appeal to your compassionate side,” he said to the officials.
Soon, though, the crowd grew angrier and started shouting: Where is the deputies’ warrant? Why is the health inspector hiding her name tag? If I’m supposed to be wearing a mask, then why don’t you arrest me? Growing rowdier still, they began chanting, “Get out!” as they pushed closer to the officials, who were inching back toward the door. The furious crowd followed them out into the parking lot and hoarsely screamed, “We will not comply!”
The scene of this tense standoff? A CrossFit gym.
A video of the incident went viral, drawing nearly a million views. On Nov. 24, the gym’s owner, Robby Dinero, appeared on Fox News, ringed in the background by roughly 35 unmasked people, including a few small children. He held up the $15,000 fine levied by the Erie County Department of Health in front of the camera. “Our freedom cannot end where people’s fear starts,” he said before ripping the document in half.
In terms of reach and influence in the fitness world, CrossFit is unparalleled. With roughly 6,700 affiliate gyms, the brand has more locations in the United States than Equinox, SoulCycle, and Orange Theory combined. With about the same number internationally, CrossFit is the largest fitness chain in the world.
But CrossFit is also unique for its hands-off corporate structure. To open an affiliate location, a gym owner needs only a location, proof of insurance, the $3,000 annual licensing fee, and a coach with a “level 1 certification,” which can be done over a weekend. Unlike under a franchise model, CrossFit gyms are largely free to make their own decisions about branding, equipment, facilities, coaches, training methodology, programming workouts, and hygiene practices.
As a result, CrossFit is divided on its response to the pandemic like no other fitness…