Gyms in America have done some really wild money-grabbing stunts before. But, as always, when it comes to being awful, the motherland of colonialism does it best. PureGym Luton, a gym located in the Bedfordshire region of England, posted a slavery-themed workout on its Facebook page entitled, “12 Years of Slave (after the epic movie)“ according to The Independent. While the movie is actually titled, 12 Years a Slave, and is a soul-crushing depiction of a free Black man, kidnapped by white men and transported to the South to be enslaved. Certainly, the most appropriate film for this advertisement.
In a since-deleted Facebook post, which can be seen here, PureGym claimed the workout was a celebration of Black History Month, which begins October 1 in England. “Slavery was hard and so is this,” the post reads, before going on to explain the details of the workout–which, appropriately, is not all that hard with the exception of a few reps of burpees toward the end. (It’s just an overly complicated CrossFit WOD.) After several people complained to PureGym’s corporate office, a spokesperson responded by apologizing and then artfully deflecting, the Independent reports. “PureGym apologizes unreservedly for a post made today by our gym in Luton. This post is wholly unacceptable, was not approved or endorsed by the company, and was removed as soon as it was brought to our attention.”
Presumably hoping to improve the situation, Matt Simpson, the trainer and assistant manager who allegedly created the workout, posted his own apology on Instagram. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said judge on character,” the caption reads. ”My character is owning this. Judge me on that.” The apology then goes on to explain how PureGym, as a company, is not racist and Simpson, who is Black, has never experienced any racial prejudice while working in a gym in England, a country whose main export for several hundred years was racism.
Simpson justified his mistake as a poor attempt at marrying “his history together with his passion and profession.” Black history has no shortage of people who voluntarily exercised, like Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, Jack Johnson, Howard Gayle, or literally anyone on the million soccer teams throughout the UK. There were so many choices that did not involve resurrecting the ghosts of enslavement or minimizing it to a 60-minute workout. That’s some deep internalized racism there, innit?