NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It has been a tumultuous week for members and affiliate gyms of the CrossFit community due to now-former CEO Greg Glassman making insensitive and racist comments in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Affiliates and members across the country have had to grapple with the fact that the fitness community they love no longer sees its values reflected by the leadership of those who originally brought them together. But how will they survive the backlash?
Many gyms decided to flat out cancel their affiliation with CrossFit HQ. That number, according to The Morning Chalk-up, a website covering the day-to-day news from the CrossFit world, has now reached into the thousands of gyms.
Among those 1,250 gyms is CrossFit Queens, in Astoria. After the events of the last week, the gym has decided to cancel its affiliation and rebrand itself as Community Fitness of Queens.
“We decided to rebrand and distance ourselves from CrossFit (specifically Greg Glassman) once we realized our values as a community did not align with those of their leadership. We felt it was time for us to establish our own identity independently from CF,” said owner Jonathan Richards via email.
The gym, which has been serving the Queens community since 2009, has been encouraging its members to speak up and to educate themselves on the issues that are currently being discussed across the country as communities take to the streets to call for social justice, an end to systemic racism and police brutality. Affiliates across the country have put out statements discussing these topics and showing support for the movement.
But, CrossFit HQ’s silence for weeks frustrated many. And, when an apology came from Glassman shortly before his resignation, it came as part of a Twitter thread that appeared less focused on what he was apologizing for and more focused on explaining his view that the COVID-19 lockdowns were unnecessary.
That focus on how the country has handled the lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19 has been a running theme since the beginning of the outbreak in March. But, Richards said regardless of what Glassman’s personal views are, the lack of leadership shown by HQ is what drove him to cut ties.
“For me, personally, I don’t have a problem with how you (Greg or CF) feel about the way things are being handled in our country and I wouldn’t necessarily judge you for those views. My issues are with the lack of leadership and insensitivity shown by your actions,” said Richards. “The lack of support and disrespect shown to the affiliates who have helped build your brand and provided you the freedom and platform to pursue other initiatives is inexcusable.”
On Tuesday, Glassman resigned as CEO and retired and CrossFit named Director of the CrossFit Games and Co-Director of Training Dave Castro as the new CEO. How much that changes things is unknown as its unclear what role, if any Glassman will have with regards to ownership of the brand and influence moving forward. Though Glassman stepping down may calm the concerns of some, for Richards, the question of whether his gym will return to its affiliation in the future is dependent upon the actions of HQ moving forward.
“This is a long shot, but I never like to completely close the door on anything,” said Richards. “It would require real change in leadership and sincere actions that illustrate a true willingness to drive positive change.”
To that end, the move to name Castro the new CEO is seen by Richards as “potentially” a step in the right direction but he reiterates that it will be the actions and level of support shown to the community that determines whether it is sufficient. In the meantime, Richards believes that the sport itself will be just fine regardless of what the name is.
“As far as the sport, I think there are too many intelligent, high quality individuals and organizations deeply connected to it that won’t allow it to die,” said Richards.
The title sponsor of the Games, Reebok, pulled out of negotiations following Glassman’s comments. Many other brands that supply equipment, gear, and related products also distanced themselves from HQ. But, like Richards’ gym, that distancing from HQ doesn’t mean abandoning what they consider the core tenets of the sport and its various gyms, to be.
“We want bring people together and uplift them through fitness,” said Richards. “We want use our platforms to drive positive change and support more social justice initiatives within our communities.”