On Saturday, CrossFit Founder and CEO Greg Glassman ignited a fury by posting an insensitive Tweet that referenced George Floyd. As a result, the organization that made CrossFit a major fitness phenomenon and runs the CrossFit Games, appears to have lost a major sponsor. Even more than that, Glassman’s actions may have hurt the organization’s credibility going forward.
Glassman’s social media post came in response to a June 4th Tweet by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a research institute that created a COVID-19 case model widely cited by public health officials over the past several months. IHME’s Tweet stated “Racism and discrimination are critical public health issues that demand an urgent response, wherever they occur. #BlackLivesMatter” and linked to a longer statement by the IHME’s director, Christopher Murray. In response to the IHME Tweet, on Saturday evening Glassman posted a Tweet that simply said “Floyd-19,” obviously referencing the recent death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by four Minneapolis police officers.
A CrossFit coach talks with participants while instructing a class over Zoom in an empty gym, which … [+]
The backlash to Glassman’s Tweet was swift, and numerous followers called out his comment with anger and disappointment. On Sunday, Glassman tweeted a follow-up note trying to clean-up his original comment, replying in the same thread: “Your failed model quarantined us and now you’re going to model a solution to racism? George Floyd’s brutal murder sparked riots nationally. Quarantine alone is ‘accompanied in every age and under all political regimes by an undercurrent of suspicion, distrust, and riots.’ Thanks!”
But Glassman’s second Tweet came already after some major damage was done. In a statement sent to Footwear News over the weekend, Reebok announced that it would discontinue its sponsorship of the CrossFit Games after 2020. The Games are one of CrossFit’s marquee events, where competitors from all around the world come to compete after a lengthy qualifying process. In the statement to FN, Reebok explained its decision.
“Our partnership with CrossFit HQ comes to an end later this year. Recently, we have been in discussions regarding a new agreement, however, in light of recent events, we have made the decision to end our partnership with CrossFit HQ,” Reebok wrote. “We will fulfill our remaining contractual obligations in 2020. We owe this to the CrossFit Games competitors, fans and the community.”
CrossFit operates on an affiliate model in which individual gyms – referred to as boxes – pay to affiliate with CrossFit HQ, which, in turn, provides certain benefits such as training, certification, resources, and qualifications for the sports elite events. Over the past several days, CrossFit HQ had already come under pressure online from some of its affiliates for not speaking out about the death of George Floyd, with many questioning where the company and its leader stood on the issue of the protests.
So, for some, Saturday’s Tweet by Glassman may have felt like a final straw.
As sports leagues and athletes grapple with the impact of both the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the protests gripping the nation after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, the leaders of the sports industry are being called on to take clear stands in support of their athletes, such as the recent acknowledgment and apology by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
As for CrossFit, the closest thing it has to a “commissioner” is Greg Glassman. And while the CrossFit community is fiercely independent and doesn’t operate with the same centralized governance of many other athletic and sports associations, it is clear that its constituency is still looking for some leadership and moral clarity, especially as the pandemic-induced shutdowns have shuttered many of its affiliates and the protests have rattled their communities.
Unfortunately, Glassman’s Tweets are not only failing to provide that leadership, but may actually be hurting the sport he helped created. He, and CrossFit HQ, still have the opportunity to take a moment to step back, reflect, and take serious measures to help the CrossFit community move forward through this crisis and come out stronger from it. His athletes, affiliates, and sponsors all should expect he will.
Doing anything less would be, especially for a community focused on strength, be a weak move.