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Wisconsin Gym Apologizes for ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Workout

Jason Scott

An Anytime Fitness franchise location in Wauwatosa, Wis., faced national backlash after a photo of a dry-erase board appearing to mock the death of George Floyd appeared on social media. 

The dry-erase board prescribed a workout routine beneath the words “I Can’t Breathe,” showing a silhouette of a kneeling person. Beneath the exercises, the words “...and don’t you dare lay down” were written.

The board was removed, but the images on social media spread and prompted both Anytime Fitness corporate leadership and local elected officials to respond. 

Anytime Fitness released a statement attributed to Self Esteem Brands co-founders Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen as well as Anytime Fitness brand president Stacy Anderson, which read in part “No matter the intent, we do not condone the words, illustrations or actions this represents. To our employees, owners and members, we are truly and profoundly sorry that this incident occurred.”

The phrase “I can’t breathe” was among the last words of Floyd, who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis last month. The phrase has been echoed by protesters around the country, including in Wauwatosa according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

State Sen. Lena Taylor, state Rep. Robyn Vining, and U.S. Rep. LaKeshia Myers released a joint statement on the incident: 

“As elected officials representing Wauwatosa, WI, we denounce Anytime Fitness’ 'I Can’t Breathe' workout regimen. For the last fourteen days our nation has protested the death of Mr. George Floyd, whose inability to breathe led to his death. Mr. Floyd’s murder has served as a catalyst for change throughout our state, country, and the world. The symbolism of the breath stolen from George Floyd as he begged for his life while pinned to the ground, is not something we take lightly and most definitely not something that should have been used to promote an exercise program.

In the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death, many residents—including those living in Wauwatosa—have taken to the streets to protest disparate treatment of people of color. Wauwatosa’s residents have collectively amplified their voices to empathize and begin to reevaluate practices that perpetuate systemic racism in our community. Nothing about the past fourteen days should have given anyone, let alone a business owner, the inkling that this workout was appropriately named.

So, as state legislators representing Wauwatosa, we call on Anytime Fitness to commit to doing the work necessary to weeding out any undercurrents of racism and/or ethnic insensitivity to prevent actions like this from ever happening in one of your facilities ever again.

Anytime Fitness’s franchise owner and corporate office have issued an apology to their employees, members, and owners. However, for many, the words rang hollow. The harmful impact of such an offensive act, extends to all of us. An apology was owed to everyone. We will not tolerate the glorification of death, the perpetuation of systemic racial violence, or engagement with racism in any way other than complete and total condemnation.

Across Wauwatosa we have seen our community come together, we have marched, we have committed to creating a better world. We wish to move forward together.” 

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