The Wisdom of Expressing Political Opinions in the Fitness Industry

Living in a politically charged world means that when you “friend” or “follow” members and staff on social media, your opinions are no longer just yours but are associated with your business. That can have consequences that you need to consider. (Photo by SIPhotography/iStock/Getty Images.)

(Editor's Note: This article has been edited to correct the specifics on the ownership of Equinox Holding Co.)

In a time when expressing any opinion can lead to backlash, boycotts and threats, how wise is it for any business owner or executive in the fitness industry to express political opinions or preferences?

That question is even more relevant as Newtown Athletic Club (NAC) in Newtown, Pennsylvania, faces backlash after its owner, Jim Worthington, went with a group of about 200 supporters of President Donald Trump to the Jan. 6 Save America rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol that killed one police officer and injured 12 others. The group Worthington was with was organized by People4Trump, which Worthington founded to support Republicans in his district. No one from the group participated in the attack, Worthington said in a Facebook post where he noted the three buses that transported the 200 people left before the attack began.

However, that didn’t stop people from lashing out at Worthington to the point where an online petition calling for local businesses to disassociate with the NAC gained enough traction that several of the business partners did sever their ties.

In 2019, Equinox and SoulCycle faced their own backlash after Stephen Ross, chairman of The Related Companies, held a fundraiser for Trump. Equinox and SoulCycle are part of Equinox Holding Co., which is owned by a group of investors, including principals of The Related Companies, L Catterton, Silver Lake as well as Equinox Executive Chairman and Managing Partner Harvey Spevak. 

As political tensions have increased during the past several years and as some business operators have voiced opinions about politicians and political or social causes, it probably was inevitable that something like this would happen. Club Industry even faced backlash for covering the Equinox and SoulCycle controversy (and I’m sure we’ll face it again for the NAC coverage), but I believe it is important to share these stories.

We are all people, and we all have opinions that we should be able to express. We all have causes that we should be able to support. However, when you are the owner of a business or are in management, expressing those opinions to the point where the opinions and your activities related to those opinions intertwine with your business can put you in a bind. Not only can it lead to negative comments, boycotts and possibly even threats, but it can put your staff in an awkward position.

What if a member of your staff disagrees with your opinion? What if you ask them to participate in organizing something that they don’t agree with? Will they fear for their job if they say no?

And it can put you in an awkward and potentially costly position, too. If a staff member has vocalized their opposition to your opinion and later that staff member is let go for any reason, there could be a question about the reason for their dismissal, even if their dismissal had nothing to do with their opposition to your opinions or activities. 

In addition, when your political views become well-known to your members, it can polarize the membership or cause a membership decrease. 

Many of you may have friended your members and staff on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram. They see your posts. You see theirs. Keep this in mind before you post and before you comment on their posts.

I write this as a caution to everyone in a time when tempers are hot. If you are going to take a stand in a way that is visible to staff and members, you need to be committed enough to that stand to face any negative impact on your business.

So, at least for now, you may want to ask, is expressing myself worth the possible backlash and loss of business? If it is, then opine away.

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