I just got back from vacation in Michigan. Digging into emails and catching up on the goings-on in the rowing community. Something that caught my eye on my Instagram was the call put out by the DC Strokes Rowing Club to boycott Masters Nationals in Florida this August in response to the state's new "Don't Say Gay" law.
When I first read the Strokes' statement on the proposed boycott, I was immediately conflicted. The competitive athlete in me was like, "Shit, Benderson is the premier rowing venue in the US. I've competed there; it's awesome. How do you boycott Benderson and stay in competitive rowing?" As much as I support the statement and truth behind the Strokes call for the boycott, I didn't have a good immediate answer for what I would do as a rowing business owner and as an athlete, so I decided to think about it.
Not a day has passed since I first read the Strokes post that the boycott hasn't come to my mind and poked at me. My primary thoughts being, "So, we all change our logos to the colors of the LGBTQIA+ flag for June, pat ourselves on the back for being "inclusive," and then call it a day on July 1? What is that? A joke is what that is... that's not legitimately supporting people; that's cheap PR."
More of my thoughts, "US Rowing and other corporate entities like myself get to cherry-pick who the word "inclusivity" applies to for them? Who it is that’s trendy, cool, or safe to amplify? Which lucky people we’ll promote in our call for inclusivity and safe sport, and who we’re willing to cast aside because they are too risky or inconvenient to support?"
These thoughts swirled in my brain against, "Well, how long does this boycott last? Am I saying I will never row or go to camp in Florida again? Maybe a huge healthy influx of awesome gay athletes is exactly what Florida needs. RB is just a small company. No one cares what we do or think; I'm not Patagonia. What difference can I make?"
Days have passed as I try to figure this out and resolve my internal conflict over the issue. Here's where I am today.
If I use the word "inclusivity," it must apply to everyone, or I need to find another word. A business can't promote itself as inclusive if its inclusivity only applies to specific people or groups and not others. The same is true for freedom, liberty, and justice for all. Justice for all means all.
I want to row in Florida and sell awesome rowing apparel at Benderson, but I understand that even more than those things, I want my fellow athletes to be safe, respected, and treated fairly, on and off the water. That is way more important to me than a medal or selling a hoodie.
So, RB is going to sign on in support of the boycott. I don't know where this will take us and if it will make a hill of beans difference, but we have to try. Inaction is not acceptable in the face of this injustice. We will put our boat in the water and start rowing and see where we're at in 500m, and then reassess again at 1000m. Maybe our efforts will make a difference. Perhaps we'll need to make a course correction as things evolve, but we must speak up and attempt to create change, or else we are just bullshit, and our words, logos, and inclusivity statements mean nothing.
I love rowing at Benderson, and a good chunk of my family lives in Sarasota. So, this is not an easy decision or one I make lightly. But hopefully, it will inspire some other companies more significant than ours to join the boycott and perhaps a few rowers too. We create the world we live in. We must try to make it better because we all do better when everyone pulls together.
Click HERE to learn more about the boycott and sign on in support.
Owner – Ride Backwards