'Insensitive' tweet causes Māori CrossFit operator to sever ties

By Bronson Perich

CrossFit founder Greg Glassman made waves in a mocking tweet that compared Minneapolis African American George Floyd, who died during a police arrest several weeks ago, to Covid-19.

This led to Māori CrossFit gym owner Verdine Smith (Tauranga Moana, Ngāti Ranginui) severing all ties with the CrossFit brand, and going out on his own.

“I would never support a person who has a belief that you can be insensitive in that way,” Smith says.

Would-be operators must apply to join the CrossFit movement. Once their training is complete, a successful applicant will then choose a name for their gym that includes the trademark ‘CrossFit’.

The ‘whānau oriented’ environment Smith created, combined with the Māori values that he infused into his business, caused him to name his gym ‘CrossFit Kotahi’.

“We’re really about our culture. So what that means is that we have a culture and a kaupapa within the gym. It’s all about being all-inclusive. It’s all about supporting and helping one another,” Smith says.

Kotahi is the root word for the Māori terms of unity, one and being together. Glassman’s tweet, Smith says, ran contrary to the multi-ethnic kotahitanga (unity) that resides in his gym, a gym he says has a variety of clientele including Māori, Pākehā, and Filipinos.

“It’s been a great business model. It’s been a great affiliate programme to be a part of,” he says.

“It’s helped hundreds of whānau.”

CrossFit affiliate gym operators pay an annual licensing fee of US$3,000. But leaving the movement, Smith says, does not prevent an operator from teaching CrossFit exercises. Neither does it stop an operator from competing in CrossFit events.

Verdine Smiths says that his clients can still compete in CrossFit game events. He is free to run his business as he pleases. However, he can no longer use the trademark 'CrossFit'.

"It's (the annual fee) a chunk of change. But you rely on the fact that CrossFit was a brand.  People were coming to me because of that brand.

"Really, the only thing that you're losing is the name."

The tweet that made Verdine Smith leave