Former CrossFit Competitor Elisabeth Akinwale Shares Letter to Black Athletes and Hope For Change
CrossFit competitor Elisabeth Akinwale is a well-known name in the CrossFit world; the athlete, mother, and coach has won more than 20 events at the Games and Regionals. So when she shared a letter on Instagram addressed to "Black folks in CrossFit" to recognize that she and others have felt harmed and disappointed by the brand — and to write something specific for those who had reached out to her — it resonated.
Elisabeth explained in the letter, published on June 4, that of the 22 years she's been training, she spent about six of them in the CrossFit space and competed in five CrossFit Games from 2011 to 2015. She's never had an official relationship with CrossFit headquarters or a CrossFit affiliate, but she wrote: "I've had the honor and pleasure of knowing and collaborating with some CrossFit athletes that are doing amazing works in their communities, met lots of lovely people, and had transformative experiences."
But for the past decade, Elisabeth said, she's been asked to account for CrossFit's failure to integrate. "I always wondered why these questions were directed to me and not to the establishment," she wrote. From her experience and what she's seen, she said, nothing much has evolved, but she applauded anyone taking part in activism to help make changes in CrossFit. "It's heartening to see the number of people who are speaking up for righteousness. That is progress. The atmosphere is different now and I have hope that can lead to change."
Elisabeth continued, "I dedicated a good deal of myself trying to create space for us in CF," through representation at CrossFit events, countless posts discussing these important issues, conversations, videos, and blogs. "At a certain point you stop asking for a seat at the table and you build your own table."
Because CrossFit is a business, Elisabeth wrote, it is responsible for establishing its own culture and carrying out its own values. On June 5, CrossFit did publish this statement on its Facebook page that read: "Members of this community feel neglected, left out, trapped, and hurt. Some are isolated, angry, and confused, while others are actively seeking ways to effect real change. We see you. We hear you," and asked, "What can we do to better serve the Black Community in CrossFit?"
Just a few short days after that statement was posted, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman made a racist comment that triggered hundreds of gyms to disaffiliate from CrossFit HQ. On June 9, CrossFit announced his resignation, and the following day, Elisabeth responded on Instagram.
Elisabeth explained that she hasn't been part of CrossFit for the past four years, although people will probably always see her through the CrossFit lens because that's how they first heard about her. Over the past few weeks, people from the CrossFit community have continued to reach out to her, specifically about dismantling racism — even people who've never considered these issues but are wanting to do better. Elisabeth said she'll continue talking about these issues, "not because the CF brand matters, but because people do."
"The CF community prides itself on being able to come together to do good," Elisabeth said. "Imagine if they harnessed that power towards contributing to the eradication of systemic racism both within CF and in society."