By Ashley Johnson
Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier
A Wilkins Township man who has dedicated himself to fitness and helping others, claims that a local gym that advertises a “No Judgment Zone” unjustly kicked him out of their facility and racially profiled him.
Chris Edmonds, owner of Athletic Trauma Unit, a nonprofit that offers free workouts to the community, said a normal trip to the gym with friends turned into a situation unlike any other he has faced in his adulthood.
Edmonds said that after visiting Planet Fitness in Penn Hills on June 8-9 as a guest to work out with his two friends, members Regis Sauers and Tayon Mitchell and without any incidents occurring either day; he received a call hours later from Mitchell informing him that the gym’s general manager said he was no longer welcome at the establishment. The group was accused of working out in a “boot camp” training style, which is viewed as intimidating to other members and prohibited by the gym.
To “clear-up” the situation and restore the reputation of his friends, Edmonds said he and Sauers, the one whose guest pass Edmonds was using, met with Planet Fitness General Manager Sam Travino. According to Edmonds and Sauers, Travino told them that there had been several complaints made to gym staff on both days about their “training” style and that he had also watched footage. When asked why nothing was said to Edmonds, both said they were told it was because the staff “was afraid of him,” that he “intimidating” and seemed “unapproachable.”
Both claim Travino, who is White, said it was because of the way Edmonds looked— a big, bald, bearded, Black man with tattoos. Edmonds and Sauers, who is also White, said what made matters worse, was that they were then complimented by Travino for “being such gentleman” through the whole meeting. They felt it was a slap in the face.
“Your job is to make this a judgment free zone so people feel comfortable, but now I’m uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable because I walked in here, not knowing that everyone looked at me like the big Black dude who’s working out,” Edmonds said. “For the first time in a long I felt uncomfortable at the gym. Even at LA Fitness (where he is a member and visited after the incident), I felt like, is this what people think about me? Is this how people see me? …I’m thinking to myself, ‘should I shave my beard, wear longer sleeves to cover my tattoos,’ all this is going through my mind as I’m sitting in Planet Fitness.”
Edmonds said he dealt with stereotypes as a youth—living in a certain neighborhood and being judged for the clothes he wore or his haircut—but “now I’m 37 years old and dealing with gym discrimination.”
He went on to say that the whole incident is “really disappointing.”
“I haven’t had to deal with this in a long time,” he said. “It’s bad that they perceive me as intimidating. And to be called that to my face and to tell me it was because I’m big and black and bald with tattoos— All things I can’t change. I can’t change that I’m Black.”
The New Pittsburgh Courier reached out to Travino for comment. He did not return the call, but a statement was sent from Planet Fitness Public Relations Manager Becky Brown. It stated, “To ensure the safety of all members, it is Planet Fitness policy that personal training instruction not provided by certified company instructors is prohibited.”
It went on to say, “At the Penn Hills Planet Fitness, a guest of a Planet Fitness member from another location was part of a group leading training sessions over multiple days. These sessions generated complaints from other members. Planet Fitness managers contacted the group to make them aware of the complaints and club policy, reiterating they all are welcome to work out at Planet Fitness at any time. Planet Fitness is the proud home of the Judgement Free Zone, and we are committed to creating a welcoming environment for all people.”Both, Edmonds and Sauers, maintain that they were not involved in a training session and that it was a workout with friends. The two define training as someone telling someone else what to do and said they barely even interacted. Sauers, who had recently transferred to the Penn Hills location from the Edgewood one, also pointed out that he, Mitchell and another friend worked out together in the same fashion the week before and were never approached by staff about complaints.
He and Edmonds said if there were complaints, which they have not seen proof of; management should have handled the situation better. The statement said that the group was contacted, but both say that it was only Mitchell who was contacted, even though they had Edmonds’ information from him signing in both days as Sauers’ guest.
“If you have kids and your kid brings someone home. You’re not gonna go (talk to someone else), you’re gonna talk to the person that brought them,” Sauers said.
He added, “If the staff would have communicated their issues that they had at the time, there would have been no situation. Being that they didn’t say anything the first day, didn’t say anything the second day, and then just reacted on it, it’s beyond me on how that’s appropriate.
“They make me believe now, and this is my personal belief, that Planet Fitness is a set up for people to go that really don’t want the push, but want to spend the money to make themselves (feel good about going to the gym), They don’t want to see people get better, they don’t want to push people. It’s easier to push yourself and get your goals with a friend and they’re telling us that you can’t work out with a friend, which I misunderstood if that is their policy, because at Planet Fitness in Edgewood we never had a problem.”
Sauers said he and Edmonds had worked out at the Edgewood location as well.
“To tell somebody that they’re really not allowed in their establishment because of their looks, no matter what their looks are, it’s just not right. That’s like telling someone they can’t go to the pool because they’re fat.”
Days after the incident, Planet Fitness in Penn Hills posted a statement on their Facebook page, Planet Fitness-Penn Hills, PA, about their policy prohibiting personal training instruction. It sparked comments from many.
James R Cain III posted “Motivation is feeding your clients pizza to keep them coming back because their ‘training Program’ isn’t working. The ‘complaint’ is BS. All they have to do is say that they can’t disclose the source of the complaint when in all reality the complaint was fabricated. This man inspires not instructs. Guess you’re not allowed to have a workout partner. Your spotter might be taken for an uncertified trainer. (peace sign emoji) deuces!”
And Christine A. Broderick posted, “I complained but not about that. I would have loved someone standing beside me motivating me to push it a little harder. I don’t care about the buff people there I aspire to that. The guy who owns the place needs a lesson in people management start there first he’s not very user friendly.”
Edmonds also took to Facebook and posted about the incident. Some commented that they would be cancelling their memberships.
While the statement from Brown said that all parties were welcome back, Edmonds and Sauers said they do not feel comfortable going back to another Planet Fitness location.
When asked if there was anything that Planet Fitness could do to make the situation better, Edmonds said no. “I’ll never feel comfortable going in a place that has that sign on top of the building.”