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“Exercising” Their Right to Protest, Gyms take on Local Governments

May 12, 2020 by

One of the last places you would expect to see a group fitness class is on the sidewalk outside of a courthouse. That wasn’t the case in Clearwater, Florida on Monday morning as a group of 30 citizens took to the streets and sidewalks in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse to do push-ups and air squats.

However it wasn’t a class, instead, it was a protest organized by a Florida gym owner and attended by other industry owners, employees and members. In a growing trend across the United States, business owners have taken to organizing protests and creating petitions in an effort to get their local and state government agencies to allow them to open their doors to customers.

Fitness, a nonessential business?

As states start the recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all have decided to use the “phases” model for reopening businesses and their economy. In most cases in the “phase” model, gyms and other forms of businesses that specialize in fitness are not in the first wave of openings.

That is the case in Florida, a state with over 41,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 1,700 deaths. Governor Ron DeSantis included barbershops, salons and restaurants in the initial phase on Monday, leading to the demonstration in front of the courthouse.

The protest was organized by Travis LaBazzo, CEO of Amped Fitness who did so in the hopes of bringing attention to fitness-related businesses as an essential part of the reopening process. These businesses, many of which have been shut down for over two months, have struggled during the pandemic due to social distancing regulations and “stay at home” orders.

The argument is that maintaining fitness is one of the best ways to combat the pandemic, and participating in activities at a gym is one of the main outlets for stress relief and mental health as well. This would make gyms just as essential as, if not more essential than some of the other businesses that have been allowed to take customers.

Safety in the time of COVID-19

Many health experts point to how gyms can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 due to the close proximity to other people, the use of the same equipment and the need for continuous disinfecting.

Adam Tar, owner of CrossFit North Point in North Point, FL, recognizes those concerns and like most gym owners has plans in place to combat the virus.

“Moving forward all of our trainers are going to wear masks, and we’re allowing 15 minute time gaps in between classes in order to allow for extra cleaning to occur since it is a group-based environment,” he said.

His plan is like so many others across the country dealing with the same issue as they await word on when they can open their doors and continue to run their businesses.

In Virginia, a petition was started to allow small gyms in the northern part of the state to open up as long as they adhere to strict social distancing and cleaning guidelines. Like Florida, gyms in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington DC are not going to be part of the first phase of reopening, leaving many of them reeling from the financial hit. They are hoping that the petition will convince their government to be included in the initial phase starting on May 15.

The wrong message

Protests and petitions have not just been the only way gyms have voiced their displeasure, the House of Pain Gym in St. Louis, Missouri has opened their doors despite being ordered not to do so. Under the order, only essential businesses could remain open in a limited capacity. The gym and many like it are deemed nonessential in St. Louis.

This has led to a lawsuit against the gym from the county government. The suit is attempting to force the gym to close its doors immediately.

The gym’s actions are just another example of how the fitness community has been torn between following government mandates and surviving financially. Some have applauded the efforts of gym owners trying to do what’s best as a business owner and surviving in a difficult time. Others think that some of the actions are sending the wrong message or that the public is seeing the wrong message.

LaBazzo, in hindsight, regretted his actions during his organized protest. He felt that his message was lost as the media showed him leading his group through a series of exercises resulting in a backlash from those he had hoped to convince that gyms needed to be open.

What people saw were groups of people doing exercises and staying fit without the need for a gym.

Despite people’s thoughts, the argument of whether gyms are essential or not will continue to be made as more protests are planned.

Justin Brown of CrossFit Vice said that over 80 gym owners had formed a group called the Florida Gyms and Studios United Coalition with their plan to hold protests and to continue the fight against state governments to get their gyms opened.

“We have played by the rules and stayed closed for 7 weeks,” commented Brown in an email to Morning Chalk Up. “There is no science or data driving these decisions at this point. Governor Ron DeSantis defied President Trump’s guidelines to open gyms in phase 1 of the reopen in Florida. It’s legal to go to the smoke shop, go to an adult store, and go to a liquor store but it is deemed unsafe to workout in your gym. This has nothing to do with safety, data, or justice. The latest executive order emailed to all Florida gym owners mandated us closed until further notice. We were lumped in with bars and nightclubs. This was enough for us. We could not stay on the sidelines any longer.”



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