Backlash over George Floyd tweet forces out CrossFit founder

The founder and CEO of CrossFit is stepping down after his tweet about George Floyd sparked a social media backlash and a wave of affiliated gyms cut ties with the company.

Reebok also dropped its affiliation with CrossFit this week.

Greg Glassman wrote on CrossFit's website late Tuesday that he would retire. Glassman had apologized earlier for tweets that sparked online outrage by connecting Floyd, an African American man who died at the hands of the Minneapolis police, and the coronavirus pandemic. He said he had made a mistake and should have been more sensitive, but denied being racist.

"On Saturday I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members," Glassman said. "I cannot let my behavior stand in the way of HQ's or affiliates' missions."

Glassman's exit may have been sealed after Buzzfeed posted a Zoom call he held with CrossFit affiliated gyms in which Glassman reportedly said: "We're not mourning for George Floyd — I don't think me or any of my staff are." Buzzfeed said it received the recording through its anonymous tip line.

The Zoom call took place hours before Glassman made a glib response on Twitter to a post by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a health research group, which said, "Racism is a public health issue."

" It's FLOYD-19," he replied Saturday, and in a second tweet criticized the group's "failed" quarantine model and accused it of attempting to "model a solution to racism."

Some 1,250 gyms have now severed links with CrossFit, according to industry blog Morning Chalk Up. An anonymously-curated Google spreadsheet lists hundreds of CrossFit affiliates with links to their social media accounts, with most on the list saying they have cut ties, or are considering doing so.

"In light of recent comments made by CrossFit CEO, we are deaffiliating from CrossFit," read a post on the Instagram account for CrossFit Central of Austin, Texas. "We are resolute in our anti racist beliefs and stance against police police brutality. We stand in solidarity with the black community."

The post by CrossFit Central echoed the sentiments of hundreds of other gyms around the world in what has been an astonishingly swift backlash against CrossFit.

An Edelman Trust Barometer poll of 2,000 Americans, published Tuesday, found that 60% of respondents said how a brand responds to the protests will influence whether a respondent buys or boycotts their products. The poll found that younger Americans felt the strongest, with 78% of millennial respondents saying that a brand must speak out on racial injustice.

"Americans want brands to step up and play a central role in addressing systemic racism," wrote Richard Edelman, CEO of the communications firm. "This is a mandate for brands to act, because consumers will exercise brand democracy with their wallets."

The speed at which companies and affiliates have distanced themselves from CrossFit was accelerated by social media, and to some degree, the coronavirus pandemic, said marketing and branding expert Allen Adamson.

"In the past, most companies only had to talk about: Does their product work?" Adamson said. "Now, younger consumers are pulling companies into this conversation because they not only want to know what their product does, but they want to know what the company stands for before they do business with them. And that pressure is exposing all sorts of challenges for companies."

According to the CrossFit website, the annual fee for affiliation for gyms or other facilities is $3,000, which allows them to use the CrossFit name, logo, and promotional materials, among other perks.

Dave Castro will take over as CEO of CrossFit, which is based in Santa Cruz, California.

Floyd died while handcuffed after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. His death set off protests around the U.S. and the globe.