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'It was started to combat racism': BodyBreak's Hal Johnson details struggles he faced getting on air

Last Updated Jun 16, 2020 at 10:03 pm PDT

Hal Johnson is speaking out against racism. In a YouTube video posted June 15, the BodyBreak creator says his popular segment wasn't born out of fitness. (Courtesy YouTube)

BodyBreak's Hal Johnson is speaking out about racist incidents that led up to the creation of his popular TV segment

Johnson says contrary to what you might think, the creation of BodyBreak wasn't rooted in fitness

BodyBreak has received a number of responses from people of colour who say they 'saw themselves' in the series

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A long-time fixture of Canadian television is adding his voice to the ongoing conversation about systemic racism.

BodyBreak founder Hal Johnson says contrary to popular belief, the creation of his segment wasn’t rooted in fitness — it was started to combat racism.

“That was the number one reason that we started BodyBreak, Joanne and I,” he says in a YouTube video detailing incidents which led up to the founding of the show.

“We really don’t talk about it a lot and haven’t talked about it over the years,” Johnson tells NEWS 1130.

He says when he was just getting started in 1988, he experienced three instances of racism, two of which were at TSN.

Johnson says he was told the Canadian public just wasn’t ready to see a mixed-race couple on TV, and that if he did BodyBreak with a white man and not Joanne McLeod, who is his wife, they’d pick up the show.

That’s when he went to ParticipACTION, a national non-profit organization that promotes healthy living and physical fitness, and the rest is history.

“So, in our BodyBreak episodes you see so many people of different colours, ethnicities, disabled people, able-bodied as well as disabled people, and that wasn’t by accident,” he notes. “Right from the get go we wanted to show that. That we can all live, work, and play together. And hopefully Canadians have seen that.”

BodyBreak has received a number of responses from people of colour who say they “saw themselves” in those segments at a time when they weren’t represented as much on television, he adds.

He’s also received positive feedback for his YouTube video. “I think there’s been a few thumbs down on YouTube, but I don’t really understand that,” he says, laughing. “But at least they’re watching — I look at it that way. At least they watched it and that’s OK because you don’t change minds overnight.”

Johnson notes that while racism is still prevalent, things have gotten better.

“And they’re a lot better today than they were 32 years ago. They’re a lot better for me than it was for my dad, who lives himself in Philadelphia and had a much, much tougher row with racism,” he recalls. “It was a piece of cake for me compared to my dad.”

He says he will continue to keep a positive attitude with the hopes of changing people’s minds.

“And the only way you can change the mind is you have to start with the heart.”

TSN issues apology

TSN has issued an apology to Johnson since his YouTube video calling out racism was released, calling it “a shameful part of our past.”

“We recognize that even 30 years later, there is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” the statement reads, thanking Johnson for :sharing his story as a reminder of the impact of racism in Canadian media that continues today.

“As a first step, TSN is part of Bell Media’s recently announced content diversity task force, which as part of its mandate is committed to amplifying voices from BIPOC on-air talent.”