Behind the Scenes
TV with no signal Photo by Thinkstock.
Life Time Fitness, Chanhassen, Minnesota, made national waves on Jan. 4 when the health club company announced it would no longer show TV news channels on televisions at its 128 locations.

Health Clubs Banning Cable News: An Indicator of a Divided Nation?

If you’re a club operator, would you consider banning cable news in your facility? In today’s polarized political climate, is this a justified policy or an act of baseless censorship?

Have you noticed growing tension from exercisers at your health club, especially when it involves the wall-mounted TVs? During the presidency of Donald Trump and his claims of "fake news,” health clubs have become new indicators of how divided our country is.

Life Time Fitness, Chanhassen, Minnesota, made national waves on Jan. 4 when the health club company announced it would no longer show cable news channels on TVs at its 128 locations. The ban means trading CNN, FOX, MSNBC and CNBC programming for shows on USA, A&E, Discovery, HGTV and ESPN.

Spokeswoman Natalie Bushaw said the new policy would ensure Life Time Fitness clubs provide "family oriented environments free of consistently negative or politically charged content."

In a Jan. 12 article, Goergea Kovanis of the Detroit Free Press called the Life Time Fitness ban “just sad.”

“I can't imagine a gym banning cable news at any other time in history,” Kovanis said “We may have had our differences in the past, but nothing like the abject hate so many of us have for each other now. Hate that in many ways is exacerbated by the leader of the free world and feels sanctioned by him, too.”

Life Time Fitness’ ban is not all-encompassing. Private TVs built into cardio equipment displays will allow TV news access as of February, according to The Washington Times. Life Time Fitness will also continue to provide wireless internet access as well, allowing members to access news via mobile devices.

Life Time Fitness may be the most well-known club chain to censor cable news, but it is not the first. Other commercial and nonprofit clubs have been banning political programming since early 2017—a move that has been both lauded and lambasted by gym-goers.

As early as January 2017, the month of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Chicago-area Valparaiso Family YMCA temporarily banned CNN programming from its exercise room TVs. Some members who favored CNN were upset when the network was pulled, according to the Chicago Tribune, perceiving the ban as a political statement in and of itself.

When the Y’s chief development officer Debra Koeppen found out this specific ban had taken place, she took steps to have it reverted.

After this episode, Y CEO Robert Wanek announced that only local Chicago news channels will be shown in the club “in order to eliminate perceived political bias associated with national news outlets.”

“[W]e get dozens of requests to change channels every day from numerous interest groups," he told reporter Jerry Davich.

"The policy that the YMCA has just put out is a victory for those who complained," Greg Quartucci, a 15-year-long Y member, told Davich. "CNN has been on a TV at the Y for those 15 years, and I am disappointed that the Y removed CNN because of complaints."

In a Jan. 17, 2017, Tribune column, Davich asked readers: “Have we reached the point in our ever-so-touchy country where we can't even air different TV stations in the same room? Will the complaints of a few people control the decisions that affect most Y members?”

In March 2017, The Greater Scranton YMCA, Scranton, Pennsylvania, banned CNN, MSNBC and Fox News after Facility Director Trish Fisher said near-fights were breaking out among members.

"[W]e've had members step forward saying they've felt a little uncomfortable about the arguments that were going on over the politics," Fisher told SF Gate.

One member, Susan Dimmick, told WBRE she understood the safety-first and public-relations motives for the policy shift; however, she "[doesn't] think it was right."

In June 2017, Spring Lake Community Fitness and Aquatic Center, Spring Lake, Michigan, stopped showing CNN and Fox News. According to a WZZM report, Facility Director Jason Epplett said regular heated arguments between members were "creating an environment that was just not conducive to what we promoted, you know health and fitness and happiness and all that."

Epplett and his staff informed members about the policy shift in an email. Initially, Epplett received mostly positive feedback, with one member canceling their membership.

In August, Element Fitness + Mind + Body, Lenexa, Kansas, also instituted a 24-hour news channel ban to mixed results, according to WDAF Kansas City.

"I don't like to be obstructed in my own great environment, that I'm paying for," Element member Leslie Gutierrez told WDAF.

“If there`s four televisions sets, surely one of them will have something you like,” added member Judith Zillner, according to WDAF. “And you shouldn't get to say the other three can't have what the other people like. Jerking the plug out of the wall!? That's just silly.”

If you’re a club operator, would you consider banning TV news in your facility? Is this a justified move or an act of baseless censorship? Is it a direct result of the Trump agenda or a festering pot that was long due to boil over? Share your thoughts with us—and any club policies you may have in place—in the comment section below, as well as on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

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