CrossFit has just won a significant victory in a legal battle with the National Strength and Conditioning Association, as a court has agreed the NSCA deliberately made a “false statement” about the safety of CrossFit and that it had commercial motivation for doing so.
First, some background: CrossFit and the NSCA have had friction for a long time. The story of the lawsuit began back in 2013, when the NSCA published a study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (which the NSCA owns) that followed forty-three participants through ten weeks of “Crossfit-based” training. (The study is the JSCR’s most viewed of all time.)
While the study did conclude that the training significantly improved VO2 Max and body composition, it suggested that sixteen percent of the participants had to quit the program due to “overuse or injury.” The study wrote,
Despite a deliberate periodization and supervision of our Crossﬁt-based training program by certiﬁed ﬁtness professionals, a notable percentage of our subjects (16%) did not complete the training program and return for follow-up testing (…) This may call into question the risk-beneﬁt ratio for such extreme training programs, as the relatively small aerobic ﬁtness and body composition improvements (…) may not be worth the risk of injury and lost training time.
CrossFit disputed this before the study was even published, and discrepancies arose in the story. The study authors said the owner of the club where the participants were training told them that the athletes were injured, while the owner himself claimed he said no such thing.
Ultimately, it was found that just two of the eleven participants who didn’t finish the program quit because of injury, which is much less statistically significant. CrossFit sued, and the NSCA wound up publishing a correction in 2015.
Flash forward a few months, and the NSCA sued CrossFit and CEO Greg Glassman, as well as Russell Berger and Russ Greene (also known as “The Russells,” CrossFit employees who run a blog dedicated to defending the brand from misinterpretation).
The NSCA accused CrossFit of trade libel, defamation, and unfair business practices, essentially alleging that CrossFit knowingly spread false information with the intent to harm the NSCA’s professional reputation and their business.
The complaint cited nine quotes from The Russells and Greg Glassman in which they describe the NSCA as operating with “corrupted science,” as having “fabricated” the injury data in the study, and having engaged in “fraud that is scientific, academic, and tortious.”
They also cite a video in which Russell Berger describes the NSCA is an organization that has “literally gotten every single thing about fitness and health wrong for the past couple decades.”
But on May 26, the United States District Court, Southern District of California issued a ruling that sided with CrossFit.
It states that, “The Court agrees with Plaintiff that there is ample evidence of willfulness, bad faith, or fault” and holds that the NSCA deliberately withheld important documents from previous court proceedings and published the original study in full knowledge that it was spreading inaccurate information about CrossFit, which is established as a competing brand. The ruling says in part,
It is taken as established that the NSCA had a commercial motivation for making the false statement in the Devor Study (…) that the NSCA made the false statement in the Devor Study with the intention of disparaging CrossFit and thereby driving consumers to the NSCA (…) (and) that a loss in CrossFit’s certification revenue was the natural and probable result of the false injury data in the Devor Study.
The NSCA has been ordered to pay CrossFit’s legal fees (roughly 75 thousand dollars) and the next step will be for the case to proceed to a trial, in which a jury will decide the amount of damages the NSCA owes CrossFit.
Featured image via @reebokcrossfit5thave on Instagram.