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CrossFit founder steps down in chaos

Greg Glassman, the founder and chief executive of CrossFit, announced this evening he would step down from his role. The resignation comes after days of turmoil for the company.

Last week, Glassman posted a tweet that made light of both the coronavirus pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in police custody, and last weekend spoke belligerently to CrossFit gym owners about race and racism in a remarkable Zoom call that was leaked to reporters.

“We’re not mourning for George Floyd, I don’t think me or any of my staff are,” said Glassman on the Zoom call, according to a recording of the call provided to The New York Times.

“Can you tell me why I should mourn for him?” he said. “Other than it’s the ‘white’ thing to do. I get that pressure but give me another reason.”

He will be replaced by Dave Castro, a longtime CrossFit executive.

“I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members,” Glassman said in a statement today. He maintains his ownership stake.

The news of the recorded meeting and Glassman’s departure was reported first by Ryan Brooks and David Mack at BuzzFeed News.

CrossFit is one of the largest fitness brands, now with more than 6,000 affiliate gyms in the United States alone. It was created in 2000 to provide workouts that rely on principles of functional movement and high intensity, militarylike drills to build strength and stamina.

Here is how the unraveling happened: On Friday, a handful of owners of gyms affiliated with the CrossFit brand, which at the time had about 14,000 affiliate gyms around the world, got an email about attending a Zoom call with Glassman.

“Hi there, I hope you’re doing well and pushing through!” said the email, sent by Danielle Hale, who works in affiliate relations for the corporate brand. “We can all use a positive, informative chat with like-minded friends of the CrossFit community, right?”

Glassman had been hosting such calls for the last several months, to check in with gym owners whose businesses have been temporarily closed by government-ordered shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This particular conference call came while many were asking Glassman on social media to make a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, and several hours before Glassman responded to a tweet that said “Racism is a public health issue” with the sentence, “It’s FLOYD-19.”

That tweet set off a public outcry and prompted an apology statement from Glassman the next day. “I made a mistake by the words I chose yesterday,” the statement said. “My heart is deeply saddened by the pain it has caused. It was a mistake, not racist but a mistake.” By today, nearly 1,200 gyms said they planned to disaffiliate from CrossFit.

But before the tweet came the Zoom call, which was held with more than a dozen people, including gym owners and employees of the corporate office, known as HQ. The event devolved into expletive-filled rants by Glassman, in which he referenced conspiracy theories and fought with a gym owner on the topics of race, racism and the responsibility of white business owners to show support for the black community amid a national time of reckoning.

“CrossFit is very popular with first-responders, military and law enforcement. It has a very close ties to those communities,” said Justin LoFranco, the founder of Morning Chalk Up, a six-days-a-week newsletter devoted to CrossFit news, who also has heard the recording of the Zoom call. “But I don’t think Greg Glassman said these things because he feels a need to defend those communities. I think this is what Greg Glassman thinks.”

On the call, Glassman said he didn’t “trust” a member of the CrossFit community who had already begun to complain publicly about the fitness company’s relative lack of response to Floyd’s death and protests that resulted.

That member, Alyssa Royse, the owner of Rocket CrossFit in Seattle, published on her gym’s blog an email exchange she had with HQ on June 5. In it, she alerted an executive who works for Glassman that she would be disaffiliating her business from CrossFit because of “CrossFit’s failure to take a stand in a time of moral crisis in the US.”

Glassman personally responded to the email, writing, “I sincerely believe the quarantine has adversely impacted your mental health” and “I am ashamed of you.”

Early in the call, Glassman first spoke directly with Eli Wallace, a gym owner from Louisiana, who described how he has set up his gyms to provide for social distancing.

Next Glassman interacted with a gym owner in Ithaca, New York, who expressed frustration that reopening his community, which was largely unscathed by the virus, was slowed simply because it was in the same state as the hard-hit New York City area.

Glassman responded that there were two great medical failures of his lifetime. “The first would be the Chinese who let this virus get out of the laboratory. That indeed did happen. And the second one would be your governor packing the nursing homes with infected people,” he said, using an expletive to describe Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Nursing homes did take in people with coronavirus; any coronavirus links to laboratories are still unknown.)

“Public health is medically themed politics. And that’s why you were sitting indoors. It had nothing to do with the virus. That’s the excuse,” he added.

More than 35 minutes into the call, Glassman turned his attention to Hannah Wydeven, the owner of Solcana Fitness, a CrossFit gym in Minneapolis. Glassman asked her if her gym had yet been able to reopen, but that wasn’t what Wydeven wanted to talk about. Her gym is about a mile from where Floyd died.

“Our community is reeling,” Wydeven said. “People are in mourning.” She went on: “I don’t think we’ve seen anything come out from CrossFit headquarters in terms of our response to that situation.”

This is when Glassman said neither he nor his colleagues mourned Floyd. He asked Wydeven why her CrossFit community in Minneapolis was upset. She explained the community was concerned about “systematic racism.”

“Now I’ve heard systemic over and over again, but not systematic,” Glassman said. “But I suspect both have no meaning. It’s really neat to have a problem that can’t be defined because then it never ends. You know, you can always wear it proudly.”

He continued: “Do you think that what happened to George was racist? Do you think that was racially motivated?”

Wydeven responded by saying “there are examples of similar circumstances where people who are white have used a $20 fraudulent bill and not been killed. And there’s so much videotape of this incident and firsthand testimony.”

Glassman was not convinced. “We have friends in the FBI in your neighborhood,” he said. “And they’re of the view that this was first degree murder, and it was to silence him over the counterfeit money. That’s the belief that’s what the cops think.” (There is no evidence that suggests a cover-up, or a link between making counterfeit money and Floyd’s death.)

Their back-and forth went on nearly 45 minutes, with Glassman saying that casting aspersions on a person who doesn’t want to make a statement against racism was “worse than the rioting.”

“Having people — innocent people that have taken part of nothing racist ever — and forcing them to say statements that could turn the world against them. What is that?” he said using an expletive. “It’s savagery is what.”

Wydeven tried to sum up her position. “What we’re asking for is very simple,” she said. She asked that he address the tragedy in some way, perhaps by saying “that you think police brutality is a problem, or if you want to say that you think that we all need to think about how racism exists in our society.”

He answered, “I don’t think it is a problem, for the most part. I really don’t.”

“I know too many cops,” he added.

The conversation moved on, but not very well. Glassman turned his attention to a black gym owner from Louisiana named Joseph Thibeaux, who appeared on the screen next to Wallace. “Eli went and got a black guy,” Glassman said.

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