A gym in the US has apologised after it launched an “I Can’t Breathe” workout in “honour” of George Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of a white police officer triggered global protests.
Anytime Fitness in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin posted an apology on social media after the workouts, which were advertised on a whiteboard outside the gym, sparked fury.
“I can’t breathe” were some of the last words spoken by Floyd as police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
The adverts also featured a drawing of a person kneeling along with the strapline: “Don’t you dare lay down.”
In a statement, the company has apologised for the workout post, saying the gym owner believed it was in “honour” of George Floyd and was meant to be “so hard that we felt what he felt”.
The “I Can’t Breathe” workout involved a range of exercises including rowing and burpees.
Anytime Fitness co-founders Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen, as well as brand president Stacy Anderson, posted a message on Wednesday saying they are “truly and profoundly sorry” as well as condemning the actions at the branch in Wauwatosa, around five miles west of downtown Milwaukee.
The horrifically tasteless sign read: “And don’t you dare lay down” and featured a drawing of a person kneeling.
Fitness centre co-owner Jen Dunnington told TMZ she was “deeply” sorry for the offensive sign but said the workout was created by one of the gym’s trainers in “honour” of Floyd, adding she didn’t realise people would be offended.
She defended the sign, claiming the exercise program was supposed to provide “a workout so hard that we felt what he felt” when the 46-year-old Floyd passed out and died.
Dunnington initially posted a video apology on the gym’s social media page but it was deleted shortly afterwards.
Anytime Fitness has also blasted the actions of the branch, calling the workout “shocking” and “devastating”.
In a statement, it said: “No matter the intent, we absolutely do not condone the words, illustrations or actions this represents.
“To our employees, owners and members, we are truly and profoundly sorry that this incident occurred.
“One of our publicly-stated commitments to antiracism work is to bolster education efforts for our franchise owners to lead with empathy, love and respect.
“This incident makes it clear that we have work to do in this space; immediately, we are sharing this incident with our franchise owners worldwide as an example of what not to do, why it is offensive, and what locations should be doing instead.”
The shocking incident came just days after Anytime Fitness released a statement announcing its solidarity with Floyd and Black Lives Matter, as protests spread across America and the world.
It also took part in the BlackoutTuesday social media campaign last Tuesday, going silent on its networks for 24 hours in solidarity with the movement.