When the CrossFit Games arrive at the Home Depot Center in Carson on July 13, they'll bring with them a flood of heavily muscled, extremely intense athletes hoping to win a $250,000 prize courtesy of CrossFit's big-name sponsors, such as Reebok and GNC. They'll be immortalized on the website of the CrossFit Games, filled with pictures of incredibly buff men and women squatting, running and jumping.
But not far from the glitz of the ESPN-televised games, on the downtown streets, one local CrossFit affiliate has been taking photos of a different sort.
The photos depict members of CrossFit Mean Streets, a gym located on the edge of Skid Row at 265 S. Main St., engaged in mockery and humiliation of troubled local denizens, some of whom had passed out on the sidewalks.
It's a sharp contrast to the morals and ethics CrossFit claims to espouse.
CrossFit Mean Streets bills itself as “the premier strength and conditioning facility in downtown Los Angeles” on its website. However, the conduct of Mean Streets owner Ronnie Teasdale and some of its clientele, exhibited on its website and Teasdale's Facebook profile, shows a pattern of using the homeless and substance abusers as a source of amusement.
In one photo published on his website and Facebook, Teasdale grins and poses with Wayne Willette, owner of CrossFit CrownTown in Corona, and several other CrossFitters as they happily pose over an unconscious man slumped in front of Teasdale's truck. Aris Gregorian, a coach at CrossFit Crown City in Pasadena, holds a CrossFit shirt above the downed man.
One shot from Teasdale's Facebook page implies that the highly fit bunch had brief contact with, but did not help, the unconscious person: Somebody has laid a CrossFit shirt across his back.
Another shows a different unconscious man sprawled on a sidewalk with a CrossFit shirt draped over his body. The photo caption mocks “free gift.”
It is not known whether CrossFit members tried to verify if these men needed medical help.
Queried by L.A. Weekly, Teasdale quickly apologized. “I would like to be the first to say that those posts were inappropriate and did not highlight the best aspects of our gym or the CrossFit community,” he said. “I am removing all of the questionable content from Facebook and my website.”
He did so, adding, “We are also in the larger process of changing the image of our gym as a whole.”
Numerous incidents and photographs — now all removed from the Internet — paint a worrying picture of the attitudes at CrossFit Mean Streets toward their immediate neighborhood's mentally ill, homeless and addict population.
One photo on Teasdale's Facebook page, for example, depicted a man in ragged clothes lifting a strongman's Atlas stone. He mistakenly bent from the waist, which can cause serious injury.
A caption makes fun of the unemployed man and implies that nobody warned him: “This guy came in looking for work … said he was stronger than all of us and could unload a whole truck of concrete bags … so logically we had to test it out and have him lift a concrete ball. … His form is perfect.”
One blurry photo on Teasdale's Facebook page showed what looked like a man cradling an injured woman, with nobody trying to help. The caption said the intoxicated couple wandered into the gym, then she climbed on the pull-up bars, fell and — Teasdale says — broke her arm, “snapping it in half.”
Other photos hint at altercations between buff CrossFitters and the often mentally wrecked, vulnerable residents. An overarching desensitized attitude — a sort of twisted machismo — comes through.
While Teasdale seemed genuinely remorseful and willing to make changes, CrossFit's corporate headquarters took a different position. Told about the photos, spokeswoman Lisbeth Darsh referred the matter to the Los Angeles Police Department and had no comment on whether CrossFit planned to take any action.
Officers working under LAPD Sgt. Deon Joseph say that, while the photos are disturbing, no crimes seem to have been committed.
CrossFit's legal counsel, Dale Saran, told the Weekly: “You framed this as if CrossFit is somehow responsible for what Ronnie Teasdale or anyone in those pictures is alleged to have done. If a United Airlines pilot goes off and does something wrong, it's on him — not all of United Airlines … unless what he did is the direct result of a UA policy or procedure.
“I don't suppose that you're claiming that CrossFit has a policy or predilection against the homeless — no responsible journalist or person could — and so I don't expect an article that reflects that.”
Saran says CrossFit is not responsible for policing its affiliates: “We do not have franchisees — we have licensees.”
But Philadelphia gym owner John Sheaffer, whose Greyskull Barbell Club once was affiliated with CrossFit, says the company has grown so rapidly that it failed to enforce quality control. With more than 4,000 affiliates now, “from a business standpoint,” Sheaffer says, “it wouldn't have been very lucrative for them to try and enforce any kind of quality control.”
Each new gym affiliate pays a hefty licensing fee. One reason outspoken critic Sheaffer left was because he viewed many new gyms as subpar. Sheaffer says he spoke with Robb Wolf, author of the New York Times best-seller The Paleo Diet Solution, about his travels to many CrossFit affiliates. “One in 10 was decent at that point,” Sheaffer says. “One in 10 was something I wasn't embarrassed to be associated with.”
Speaking from his home in Northern California, Wolf says his gym was the fourth to open, but in 2009 he was booted out of the organization. According to Wolf, “CrossFit HQ has a history of kicking out and de-affiliating people … for simply requesting some level of quality control.”
He wasn't surprised by the attitude of some members of CrossFit Mean Streets in downtown L.A. “I think a lot of the problem is the culture itself,” Wolf says. “That really is the problem, and it's a top-down sort of arrogance that creates bad behavior. There's never a structure where decency and morality are part of the ethos.”
Sheaffer was equally blunt, saying, “It does not surprise me in the least. … Some of the CrossFit T-shirts I would see were just appalling. … It's not, you know, you have a few bad eggs. … I really do feel like it's an organizational-culture thing with CrossFit that breeds that type of asshole.”
Earlier this year, CrossFit's headquarters released a poster for a charity event, CrossFit for Hope, to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The unsettling poster art offended many critics.
It depicted a sexy nurse pulling a string of small wagons filled with sick, emaciated children. At first CrossFit spokesman Russell Berger wrote on a Facebook thread, “I ask myself, 'What is actually offensive about this poster?' ”
The poster was pulled after the outcry grew. Wolf says there wasn't “even a slight kind of mea culpa, an 'OK, we messed up.' ”
During a series of 10 emails between the Weekly, Darsh, Saran and other departments at CrossFit and Reebok, and during multiple phone calls between the Weekly and CrossFit, no one asked to see the photos of L.A.'s homeless being humiliated.
A different version of this story included a headline that may have inadvertently cast blame on the wrong L.A. CrossFit gym; as stated in the story, the gym that posted photos mocking the homeless was CrossFit Mean Streets, not CrossFit Los Angeles. We regret any impression to the contrary.
Keep reading to see more photos and posts from the gym's Facebook page.