The most pressing problems faced by most gyms might be making sure members don't hog the elliptical machine and reminding them to wipe down the treadmill. But the San Francisco Bay Area franchise of Gold's Gym has a bigger problem: Karl Rove's political campaign group American Crossroads.
In response to major Republican donor Robert Rowling's published $2 million dollar donation to American Crossroads, Gold's Gym San Francisco's four branches will be leaving the brand, director of operations Don Dickerson announced in a Facebook message Monday. Rowling is the CEO of TRT Holdings Inc, which owns the 600-location Gold's Gym along with the Omni Hotel chain.
"Gold's Gym San Francisco has long been a pillar of the gay community," Dickerson wrote. "We will continue to be. It is very unfortunate that the CEO of TRT [H]oldings has chosen this course of action. We do not support it in any way." Dickerson said that for every dollar paid in franchise fees while it reviewed the legal ramifications of breaking its Gold's contract, it would donate "an equal or greater amount" to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) charities.
"The San Francisco branches leaving Gold's Gym has nothing to do with my contributions to American Crossroads, and if they say that they did, they're absolutely lying," Robert Rowling told Fox News Tuesday. In a statement, Gold's Gym International said owners Sebastyen and Zslot Jackovic informed the chain of their intent to sell two of the gyms in March, the franchise termination process started "many months ago" and was "due to completely unrelated matters."
Over the weekend, the fitness chain faced growing backlash from the gay blogosphere after a New York Times article listed Rowling as one of American Crossroads' big Texas donors.
Change.org, which describes itself as the "central platform for launching and promoting movements for social change on the web," posted a petition demanding an official response from the franchise for Rowling's support of Rove's organization as well as "anti-gay candidates" Sharron Angle and Roy Blunt. The online petition to date has garnered over 3,800 signatures.
"The facts are so distorted," Rowling told Fox News, explaining that his donation to American Crossroads had nothing to do with social policies that could spark crossfire. "I've never heard one discussion of a social issue. This is all about fiscal sanity." American Crossroads "supports conservative candidates, and even though those candidates may disagree with them on social issues, the resounding issue is fiscal responsibility."
Rowling explained that his donation was made knowing that unlike its sister organization, Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads discloses its donors. "I gave to American Crossroads, where I knew my name would be published," he said.
LGBT online newspaper the Dallas Voice, which shares a neighborhood with Rowling, on Monday likened the criticism from the gay community to similar backlash against Target Corp. over its financial support of an organization that backed Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who has made clear his stance that marriage between a man and a woman is the only form that should be legally recognized.
"...Apparently the only thing we hold more sacred than shopping at Target is working out," the newspaper deadpanned in a Monday posting.
Target Corp., which is known for its progressive employment policies and sponsorship of Minnesota gay groups, in August faced pressure from its shareholders to retool its donation process to avoid similar problems in the future.
"Gold's Gym is apolitical. We welcome all members without regard to race, gender, or sexual orientation," Rowling told Fox News. "We always have, and we always will."
"Bob Rowling, the CEO of our ownership group, TRT Holdings, made a private donation completely independent from (and not on behalf of) Gold's Gym," Gold's Gym International said in a statement, insinuating that maybe gym goers should just be focusing on tightening up their abs and firming up their thighs. "We hope that our friends and long time members of the LGBT community understand that our sole purpose as an organization is to help reach their fitness goals."