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Anytime Fitness location under fire for seemingly mocking George Floyd with "I Can't Breathe" workout routine

An Anytime Fitness location is under fire for running an "I Can't Breathe" workout routine, just weeks after George Floyd said the same words while a police officer held his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The roughly 35-minute routine, on display at an Anytime Fitness in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, was accompanied by a silhouette of a man kneeling and the words "I Can't Breathe...And don't you dare lay down," according to a picture of the board that circulated on social media on Wednesday. 

Dozens of people criticized the location's workout on Twitter, and many drew parallels to Floyd's death. 

Anytime Fitness co-founders Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen, as well as brand president Stacy Anderson, apologized for the board on Twitter, saying they "were shocked and devastated" to see it. 

"No matter the intent, we absolutely do not condone the words, illustrations or actions this represents," they said in a statement. "To our employees, owners and members, we are truly and profoundly sorry that this incident occurred." 

They continued to say that one of the company's "commitments to antiracism work" is to "bolster training efforts." 

"This incident makes it clear that we have work to do in this space," the company said. "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. We remain committed to working to inform and educate employees and owners worldwide to stand for our black communities including our members and employees." 

The Wauwatosa location posted almost the exact same apology on their Facebook page on Wednesday, adding that it is "terribly sorry for their actions." 

"We obviously have work to do within our own location, and we will work hard to earn back your trust and respect," the location said. "We stand with our black community, and again, we are so very sorry for this insensitive move."

To our members, employees and community: We are terribly sorry for our actions this week by offering an “I Can’t...

Posted by Anytime Fitness on Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Wisconsin Anytime Fitness location did not immediately respond to CBS News' request for further comment. 

But the larger company told CBS News in an email that "the franchise owner of the Wauwatosa location has taken full responsibility for the actions of his location."

"The trainer who created and promoted the 'I Can't Breathe' workout has been placed on leave and his employment status is under review," the company said. "Additionally, the owner and his entire staff have volunteered to be the first ones to participate in the antiracism training that we announced last week and are providing for all franchise owners across our portfolio of brands."

The statement added that franchise owners "make independent decisions" about promotional activities, but that the "I Can't Breathe" workout was "offensive, insensitive and inconsistent with our brand values." 

Dozens of people have commented that in the days leading up to the incident, Anytime Fitness has released a series of statements on the death of George Floyd, and appeared as though it was standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor and State Representatives Robyn Vining and LaKeshia Myers have decried the routine

"For the last fourteen days our nation has protested the death of Mr. George Floyd, whose inability to breathe led to his death," the trio said in a statement. 

"Mr. Floyd's murder has served as a catalyst for change throughout our state, country, and the world," the statement added. "The symbolism of the breath stolen from George Floyd as he begged for his life while pinned to the ground, is not something we take lightly and most definitely not something that should have been used to promote an exercise program."

The legislators also said that Anytime Fitness' apology "rang hollow," and that the company and location needed to focus on "weeding out any undercurrents of racism and/or ethnic insensitivity" to prevent this from happening again. 

"The harmful impact of such an offensive act, extends to all of us. An apology was owed to everyone," they said. "We will not tolerate the glorification of death, the perpetuation of systemic racial violence, or engagement with racism in any way other than complete and total condemnation."

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