Florida Gym Protesters Might End Up Regretting This Strategy

Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Shutterstock.
Florida, which is currently in its “phase one” of reopening after having shut down briefly due to the coronavirus pandemic, has been a protestor epicenter after a number of businesses remain shuttered. Although restaurants are serving food and beaches are open, the gyms remain closed, which isn’t sitting right with some residents, who are now being aptly dubbed the Florida Gym Protestors.
On Monday, protesters in Florida gathered in front of Clearwater Courthouse to protest gyms being closed with a series of questionable tactics. Protestors were not wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines — but in addition to that, many were doing squats, pushups, and other exercises to get attention from the cameras.
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The protest was organized by Travis LaBazzo, the owner of multiple gyms in Pinellas County like Amped Fitness. Refinery29 reached out to LaBazzo for comment on the organized protest. According to local reports, LaBazzo originally considered opening his gyms against Governor DeSantis' orders but ultimately decided against it. Instead, he chose to lead a group of gym aficionados, who are displeased with current statewide regulations, for an event that was live-streamed on Facebook and garnered national attention.
But, the on-the-ground protest strategy was met with backlash on multiple fronts. Videos of protestors began to circulate all over the Internet, particularly ones with people doing squats and jumps outdoors. As such, many people on Twitter specifically reacted to videos of the Florida Gym Protestors with a similar take: if they are working out outdoors in protest, aren't they just proving that it's possible to workout outdoors?
People on Twitter have commented about the selfishness of the protests as well as the irony, with one person saying, “So many people want to have the right to die and take others down into their selfish quicksand.” Others have pointed out that people can obviously exercise outside and without going to a gym, with one person tweeting, “If you can do squats and push ups on the sidewalk, you can do them in your living room and don't need to be at the gym, you absolute ding dongs."
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Still, protestors seem to strongly stand behind their message. One of the protesters who works at a gym LaBazzo owns took to Instagram to talk about backlash the protest has received. In an Instagram story, Clay Payne said, "We've done two peaceful protests now, but of course we're going viral right now. I have a key to the f*cking gym, I can go work out whenever I want. That's not what this is about," he said. "For all the comments and so on that we see about our protests, guys you're missing the point, this isn't about working out. This is about our rights to work, providing for our families."

In a multi-Instagram story rant, Payne went on to drag media coverage of the protests, calling out "the news" for posting "what they want you to see" and alleging that those who follow the news are "sheep." Payne also lead his rant by claiming that he has received zero negative feedback, despite the massive amount of negative feedback online.
LaBazzo, however, has a different take on Monday's events and the kind of feedback received. In an interview with BuzzFeed, the Florida Gym Protest organizer said he sees the points that some have made about tactics used. Still, he feels that the protest itself has been misinterpreted.
"I'm glad it got out there, but it completely lost the message," LaBazzo told BuzzFeed News. "People out there saying, 'You just proved you don't need the gym,' but it's not about that. It's about thousands of employees that are out of work in Florida." LaBazzo explained that the protest was meant to focus on local business owners’ frustrations and worries about how they’re being hurt by stay-at-home orders.
While the protests are apparently not so much about people being able to exercise at a gym, as LaBazzo said, the original message about letting businesses open up may now have been lost because of how they chose to get attention. Despite all of this effort, gyms are still required to follow state regulations through and through. According to Florida’s guidelines, gyms may reopen "once the governor determines it is suitable to continue re-opening and after fully considering medical data in consultation with state health officials."

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