CrossFit Kids: Divorce and Custody

Becca Borawski Jenkins

Coach

Coaching, Strength and Conditioning, Martial Arts

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If you believed in an organization so strongly that you would stand up to defend it against your own friends and family, would you also then assume that organization would stand up for you? According to Jeff and Mikki Martin, founders of CrossFit Kids, if the organization in question is CrossFit, Inc., then such an assumption would be wrong.

 

While CrossFit, Inc. has had public legal battles for years, the Martins never imagined the sights would be set on them. They were the godparents of Greg and Lauren Glassman’s children. In addition to running one of most well known CrossFit affiliates out of their gym, Brand X, they were well-respected as the founders of CrossFit Kids. But that business, born from a simple handshake agreement in 2004, would turn into a life-consuming lawsuit and have them see CrossFit and the people behind it in a whole new light.

 

 

“It’s almost as if they didn’t know us,” said CrossFit Kids co-founder Mikki Martin. “We started as a self defense studio. We started as: people shouldn’t be treated badly, you should fight for yourself, and you don’t allow people to do bad things to you… I don’t know what they thought. I think they thought we’d be scared and roll over. And that’s not us.”

 

To understand what happened, we need to take a look at some CrossFit history.

 

The Timeline

  • 2004 - Jeff Martin discovered CrossFit and took his first Level I certification. He and Mikki integrated CrossFit into their martial arts kids program at the request of Greg Glassman and Lauren (Glassman) Jenai. The Martins were subsequently invited to the CrossFit course in Boulder, Colorado. There, Greg Glassman asked the Martins to start CrossFit Kids and they agreed. Greg encouraged them to post workouts on their website and they began doing so that December. Glassman then encouraged the Martins to create a turnkey program for affiliates wanting a kids program, including lesson plans, magazine, and a certification course. The Martins began building CrossFit Kids and Glassman continued to emphasize that the endeavor belonged to the Martins, stating, “It’s yours for a hundred years.”
  • 2007 - The Martins began creation of the first CrossFit Kids certification course.
  • 2008 - The Martins launched the certification courses. Glassman changed the wording he used to say that he “licensed the name” to the Martins for one hundred years. He encouraged the Martins to create affiliates through CrossFit Kids.
  • 2010 - Glassman asked the Martins and CrossFit Kids to come “under the umbrella” of CrossFit, Inc. In response to the Martins’ concerns, he stated again that CrossFit Kids belonged to them. By this time, the Martins were training certification teams and teaching CrossFit Kids courses worldwide. This was the first profitable year for CrossFit Kids, contrary to the statements by CrossFit headquarters (CFHQ) that the Martins needed their financial assistance. Glassman asked the Martins to discontinue the CrossFit Kids affiliation process so affiliations could go through CFHQ. In return, they were promised profit sharing - $500 for each CrossFit affiliate running a CrossFit Kids program and 2% of all sponsorship and advertising revenue. The Martins agreed, but the details of their new compensation were never actualized due to Glassman becoming increasingly distant. The Martins believed the lack of communication was due to the legal issues between Glassman and Lauren Jenai and didn’t press the matter, despite taking a huge cut in income.
  • 2011 - CFHQ was no longer scheduling as many CrossFit Kids courses or with enough lead-time for the courses to be marketed, so the Martins’ income was dramatically cut. The Martins were not given the ability to schedule additional courses. CFHQ billed the Martins for all expenses associated with the courses and only paid the agreed-upon percentage of profit after expenses. But in fact, the Martins had signed the agreement under duress and no details regarding the determination of profit had been laid out, so the billing of expenses and small nature of their payments came as a surprise. The Martins had been told they could go to Glassman with any concerns, but they were continually denied access to him. As the situation wore on, the Martins became in danger of losing their home. Glassman paid them a one-time bonus and put them on a salary with a three-year agreement. CFHQ agreed to come up with a more comprehensive contract once the courses were back on track. Throughout this, the Martins expressed that their income should be connected to the CrossFit Kids courses as it was their creation.
  • 2014 - The three-year date passed on the Martins’ contract and no renegotiation was brought up by CFHQ. The Martins felt promises were made that were never actuated and pressed the matter.

 

In 2007, Glassman suggested to the Martins that CrossFit Kids be linked on the main CrossFit website. The Martins believe the following voicemail from Glassman offers clear evidence that CrossFit Kids belonged to them:

 

 

The Beginning of the End of CrossFit Kids

In early 2014, CFHQ asked the Martins to hand over their CrossFit Kids email accounts. These were the personal accounts created by the Martins ten years earlier.

 

When the Martins declined to surrender their email accounts and restated that they believed they had the rights to the CrossFit Kids name, a six-month long negotiation ensued. During that time, the Martins’ ownership of CrossFit Kids and their loyalty to CrossFit itself fell under repeated question.

 

The Beginning of the End of CrossFit Kids

In 2007, Jeff Martin was working a full-time biotech job. He got up at 4:30am to prepare for work, drove 45 minutes to work, worked nine hours, drove 45 minutes home, taught at the gym all night, then went home to work on CrossFit Kids, going to bed at close to midnight every night. Mikki was matching this effort, raising their family and devoting her time to running the gym and CrossFit Kids.

 

Later that same year, Jeff was laid off, but he was offered other biotech job opportunities. The Martins met with Glassman to get his advice. They felt if Jeff retained another biotech job, they would not be able to move CrossFit Kids forward.

 

 

Glassman encouraged them to go all-in with CrossFit Kids and invest everything in the company, reiterating that it was theirs forever. The Martins cashed in all of their stocks and retirement investments to give themselves the capital to concentrate 100% on CrossFit Kids.

 

Fast-forward back to 2014. The Martins trusted their financial future to CrossFit Kids and to CrossFit, Inc. But because the profit-sharing promise never came to be, they were facing an empty retirement account. They had created a company worth millions of dollars and were faced with having to start over, with no savings to stand on for their children or their own future.

 

After six months of frustrating and contentious “negotiation,” the Martins went away from what would be the final meeting believing everything was about to be settled. They were waiting for final word from CFHQ. They hosted and attended a CrossFit Kids course that weekend, but didn’t hear from CFHQ on Monday due to a holiday.

 

On Tuesday morning, the Martins were fired and on Thursday morning they were served with a lawsuit.

 

It became clear to the Martins that CrossFit, Inc. had been drawing up this lawsuit the whole time the “negotiations” were going on. And despite Castro and Carroll being the agents of the negotiations, the Martins feel firmly that Glassman was behind it all.

 

The Trademark Is Not the Issue

Mikki believes the argument about trademark is simply a way to win public favor:

 

I think the use of the defense that it’s all about the trademark is easy to sell to affiliates who have lots of concerns about trademark … They want other people not to be able to use that name without going through the steps they went through and the investment that they went through. And that’s very understandable. So I think that’s an easy tool for HQ to use - that everything is about defending the trademark, when in some cases, such as ours, we feel it has almost nothing to do with it at this point.

 

To prove the point, Jeff Martin asked, “Where were we going?” Jeff and Mikki were never leaving CrossFit, never taking their CrossFit Kids brand elsewhere, never threatening to break off or market to another entity. They were always fully on board with being part of CrossFit, Inc. and continued to run a CrossFit affiliate gym.

 

Instead of taking the bait and seeing them as the villains, the Martins ask people to dig deeper, to not believe the vitriol on the Internet. To ask why CrossFit might behave this way when they’ve been given everything they asked for.

 

The Martins have already handed over everything CrossFit requested, including the domain names at the center of the original dispute, so why has CrossFit not dropped the lawsuit? And why should this concern every affiliate owner?

 

crossfit, crossfit kids, greg glassman, crossfit hq, jeff martin, mikki martin

Jeff Martin was honored with the rare title of "Coach" in 2006.

 

Why the Martins Should Matter to All Affiliate Owners

In a recent and already infamous interview, Greg Glassman stated that he runs his business like a motorcycle gang. Some fans of CrossFit find this amusing, but the Martins think the analogy is all too telling.

 

“If you think about it, his analogy of ‘I run my business like a motorcycle gang’ really applied,” said Jeff. “Mikki and I are the perennial prospect. Not the patch members like Dave and Nicole. The prospects, and ‘I want what the prospect has, I’m taking it, and I can take it because I have the gang behind me.’”

 

Mikki elaborated:

 

There’s this whole idea of "ninety lawyers [sic]." What’s that for? That’s to scare people and intimidate them, and then things happen somehow where somebody says or does something that they don’t want, and they lose their connection to HQ. They were an L1 trainer or they had a great affiliate where they gave courses and all of the sudden there are no more courses scheduled there or they’re no longer staffed, they’re contractors, so they’re staffing changes. Those mysterious things occur, and people are scared. We see it and that’s why we have this ‘unbullyable’ theme. People feel bullied.

 

“They used the affiliate agreement that we have as Brand X to say that they own everything we’ve ever done,” Jeff said. “That should scare you.”

 

CrossFit Hasn’t Given Up

Despite the fact that the Martins have moved on, CrossFit has not. CrossFit Brand X, the Martins' CrossFit gym - the fifth affiliate that ever existed - was recently notified by email that their affiliation was revoked. And the lawsuit still stands. I reached out to CrossFit, Inc. for their thoughts, but was unable to get a comment. I was referred to their statement on The Russells blog:

 

The Martins have introduced countless people to CrossFit and had immeasurable impact on trainers and young athletes throughout our community. Still, no amount of time as CrossFit Inc.’s licensees or employees would make them owners of “CrossFit Kids.” Seemingly, the Martins had always understood this as they frequently acknowledged in print and otherwise that they were licensees—not owners—of the CrossFit Kids mark. CrossFit Inc.’s intent has never been to harm the Martins. After exhausting all other avenues for reasonable resolution, CrossFit Inc. was faced with point-blank refusal of access and administration over its own domain name, websites, social-media accounts and email accounts, thus had no choice but to file suit to protect the CrossFit brand.

 

Christopher Wimmer, the Martins’ lawyer, perhaps sums up the situation the best:

 

I've been digging into the story of CrossFit Kids since last November. Everything I've seen tells me that Jeff and Mikki spent years of their lives dedicating themselves to developing CrossFit Kids from the ground up based on their handshake agreement with Greg Glassman. Although CrossFit has so far failed to produce a single document in the litigation, the emails and other documents I've seen from the Martins - including a voicemail from Mr. Glassman himself - show that CrossFit knew what Jeff and Mikki were doing, sought to benefit from it, and was grateful to them for expanding CrossFit's global empire. To anyone who doubts the Martins had an agreement with CrossFit, I would ask: If you had a family, and you had other opportunities, would you spend thousands of hours over the course of six years building a business from scratch if you didn't have the right to do so? It beggars belief.

 

The Next Evolution

Despite the CrossFit scare tactics, despite the lawsuit, and despite the social media melee, the Martins are not standing down and not giving up on their passion.

 

For them it always has been and always will be about the kids. “We will do whatever we need to support the community,” Jeff said. Though they are no longer connected to CrossFit Kids and they mourn the potential that business had, they are excited about their new path.

 

“We want people to have more education about how to train kids,” said Mikki. “There’s so much research out there on exercise and brain function and what we can do for kids in a really amazing way.

 

We have the obesity problem. We have physical literacy issues. We have sports injury that’s just ridiculous because people are professionalizing their children. There’s so much work for us to do.”

 

Jeff and Mikki began as Brand X back in their martial arts days, and their new kids program flies under that proud banner - The Brand X Method.

 

On the horizon are seminars, online courses, a new curriculum, and training centers. But the Martins are taking their time to create a quality product, striving to achieve the same level of excellence for which they’ve always been known.

 

They have launched one course – the Brand X Method Teen Weight Training Seminar – in response to coaches wanting to know more about safely teaching weightlifting and strength training to teenagers.

 

As proof of the efficacy of their method, Jeff and Mikki recently took nine of their teenaged students to a USAPL meet in California. All nine won their weight classes and qualified for nationals.

 

crossfit, crossfit kids, greg glassman, crossfit hq, jeff martin, mikki martin

Jeff and Mikki at the USAPL meet with the Brand X Method staff and participants.

 

For more on this next evolution of kids coaching from Jeff, Mikki, and the Brand X Method, visit their website. They regularly post pre-school, kids, pre-teens, and teens workouts. Just like they always did, but the Brand X Method is likely to be the purest form of their methodology and philosophy yet.

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