In 2013, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) published an article in their Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research about CrossFit®. This article would soon come to be known as “The Devor Study”. In this article, the NSCA claimed that CrossFit was an injurious sport, and included with it, injury data related to the sport. The data was determined to be fabricated by the NSCA. Despite CrossFit’s attempt to reach out and urge the NSCA to investigate this study before publishing it; the NSCA published “The Devor Study”. Their actions seemed to be futile as CrossFit then began to shed light on the NSCA, and found that the organization had fabricated and engaged in academic and scientific corruption. CrossFit took it upon themselves to point to the lack of scientific evidence to any sort of data against their sport. Besides defending their own brand, CrossFit ultimately showed the fitness world that the NSCA was out to take down competitors by any means necessary. Even if it meant falsifying statistics.
Although CrossFit took action against the NSCA, the organization began to defend themselves. On May 2nd, 2016, attorneys for the NSCA filed a lawsuit against CrossFit Inc. and their “big wigs”, including Gregg Glassman, Russell Berger, and Russ Greene. The lawsuit, which was filed in the state of California, alleges that the defendants engaged in trade libel, defamation, and used unfair business practices against the NSCA. These claims are all very similar in nature. All in all, the NSCA alleges that CrossFit knowingly spread false information about the NSCA with the intent to harm their professional reputation and their business. If this was not done so in a knowingly manner, the NSCA alleges that at the very least, CrossFit acted “with reckless disregard” as to whether these statements were true or false.
The Legal term “defamation” refers to false statements being made against another in a harmful manner. The elements for defamation include:
- Having a false and defamatory communication about the plaintiff (the NSCA);
- Which is publicized to a culpable third person (party) who understands;
- That the fault came on behalf of the false information; and
- That the plaintiff (NSCA) be able to prove that they were damaged by the defamatory language.
If the defamation is not otherwise clear, the plaintiff must plead and prove that there was either a reference made on their behalf (colloquium); that surrounding facts are damaging to them (inducement); or that the language had/created a defamatory meaning (innuendo). The plaintiff must establish that they were damaged by the defamatory words in any of the following manner to establish a successful claim. Most states provide for a demand for a printed retraction of defamation and only allow a lawsuit if there is no such admission of error.
The trouble with the NSCA’s claim against CrossFit is that it arguably contains no defamatory language. CrossFit claims that the statements made against the NSCA were not defamatory in any way because these statements were all truthful. The NSCA lawsuit lists 9 specific sentences alleging where the defamation took place, however CrossFit is able to point to factual backing that states otherwise. It is understandable that the NSCA is trying to repair their tarnished reputation, however what they are failing to realize is that they themselves are entirely to blame. CrossFit has stated that if any of the 9 sentences alleged to be defamatory are actually false, that they will by all means apologize and retract those statements. The NSCA must show, with evidence, that any of the statements CrossFit made were factually inaccurate.
CrossFit has gone to great lengths over the years to protect their reputation both in the fitness world, but in the legal world as well. CrossFit prides itself on being one of the fastest growing fitness trends of all-time, and they will exhaust every measure in order to preserve their brand. The NSCA seems to have an uphill battle, as the burden of proof rests solely on the shoulders of the plaintiff. Not only will they NSCA have to find that the statements CrossFit made were factually inaccurate, but that those statements were the reason that they suffered harm, and in turn, that they even suffered any harm. I am not a betting man, however if you asked me, I would say that CrossFit has a pretty good defense against the defamation claim.
For the full list of the 9 alleged defamation statements see:
To read up on CrossFit’s intial response to “The Devor Study” see: