CrossFit brand implodes after founder’s insensitive George Floyd tweet

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Updated 6/10/20: This article has been updated to reflect the resignation of CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman on June 9.

During this time of civil unrest, brands, businesses and public figures are splintering into two groups: those who have effectively spoken out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and those who haven’t. Greg Glassman, CEO and one of the founders of CrossFit, placed the franchise staunchly on the latter side following his recent actions. 

On June 5, after days of deafening silence from CrossFit headquarters as protests sprung up around the nation, gym owners from Rocket CrossFit (soon to be rebranded to Rocket Community Fitness) reached out. The owners have a personal relationship with Glassman, and used their influence to contact CrossFit executives with serious concerns.

Rocket, a CrossFit affiliate with a reputation for working toward transgender and queer inclusivity within the gym, made it clear that it would likely not be renewing its affiliate membership due to CrossFit’s lack of response to the national crisis.

Through its public actions and emails sent to CrossFit executives, including Glassman himself, Rocket sent a message to the brand that spoke to the sentiment shared by many affiliates, who pay annual fees to use the CrossFit name. It emphasized that without strong moral leadership from the brand, individual gyms can publicly decree their own, potentially problematic stances on social issues. Under the shared brand name, all affiliate owners may be seen as responsible for the careless words of a few.

Rocket owner Alyssa Royse received an inflammatory response from Glassman after reaching out through email. Glassman’s response did not match the conciliatory tone Royse had used in the initial message she sent him, and he instead chose to lash out at her and the stance her gym chose to take.

And on June 6, rather than finally voice outrage at the killing of George Floyd and the institutionalized forms of police brutality that have long plagued Black communities in the United States, Glassman tweeted this:

The insensitive and downright racist remarks Glassman made have prompted a growing number of CrossFit affiliates to sever their ties with the brand. A gym in Berkeley formally called Grassroots CrossFit announced on social media that it will be rebranding as Grassroots Strength and Conditioning.

Ben Bergeron’s CrossFit New England, which has coached numerous CrossFit Games competitors, announced on social media June 8 that it too will be rebranding, starting with changing its name to Community Fitness New England.

Gyms aren’t alone in ending their partnerships with the brand. Reebok announced that it will terminate its longstanding partnership with CrossFit after fulfilling its 2020 contractual obligations.

Rogue Fitness, which has been the equipment provider for the CrossFit Games since 2010, announced that the CrossFit logo will be removed from the 2020 Rogue Invitational. The company will complete the 2020 CrossFit Games season, but its future with CrossFit will depend on how CrossFit headquarters continues to proceed.

Many of the well-known names in the CrossFit community have openly expressed outrage at Glassman’s remarks. Katrín Davíðsdóttir, winner of the 2015 and 2016 CrossFit Games with a following of 1.8 million on Instagram, was one of the first major athletes to speak out. She disavowed Glassman’s actions, and shared with her massive following his racist tweet and the hostile email sent to Alyssa Royse.

Brooke Wells has competed at the CrossFit Games five times and has amassed 1.2 million followers on Instagram. She shared a statement similar to Davíðsdóttir’s, condemning CrossFit’s response and Glassman’s specific tweet and email.

Mathew Fraser, who has dominated the CrossFit Games and secured the title of Fittest Man on Earth for four consecutive years from 2016 to 2019, publicly praised Rogue Fitness and coach Jason Khalipa for their condemnations of Glassman.

Three-time CrossFit Games champion Tia-Clair Toomey, who trains alongside Fraser, also posted to her fans that due to Glassman’s actions, her future with CrossFit is unclear.

It seems that the CrossFit brand won’t be able to hold on to its socially conscious clientele, as Glassman’s insensitive decisions continue to isolate Black gymgoers. CrossFit has historically struggled to foster an inclusive environment, drawing criticism for sharing a racist blog piece in 2013 under the backdrop of a predominantly white competition field. Glassman’s most recent actions could be a tipping point for the entire franchise.

Glassman tweeted a half-hearted apology on the evening of June 7, but this feeble attempt to make up for damage already done might not be enough to save CrossFit.

With affiliates around the country already shutting their doors due to the economic strain of COVID-19, the brand may be unable to survive the damage done by its own creator. The futures of CrossFit Games athletes are unknown.

One can only hope that an entirely new entity rises out of the ashes of what was once CrossFit — one that fosters an environment of inclusivity, diversity and thoughtfulness by fiercely standing against injustice. And one without the disappointing leadership of Glassman.

Sarah Siegel covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].