Hours before tweeting controversial statements about George Floyd on Saturday, former CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman made insensitive comments about race on a video call with affiliate gym owners.
On the call, a gym owner from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Floyd was killed and protests over his death began, explained that her community and members of her gym were mourning the death of Floyd. She asked why the company had not made any statement on Floyd’s death, according to a recording of the call obtained by CNN Business. There were around 10 CrossFit affiliate owners and several company executives on the call, which lasted nearly two hours.
“We’re not mourning for George Floyd. I don’t think we or any of my staff are,” Glassman said. “Can you tell me why I should mourn for him?”
Glassman said he thought Floyd’s death “had nothing to do with race,” and that he believed Floyd’s death was part of a conspiracy to cover up money laundering. No evidence of such a conspiracy has been reported.
When asked on the call about CrossFit’s response to the protests, Glassman said: “I love the rebuilding, I love the helping. I’d like to make an anonymous donation to the rebuild. But I don’t want any of it going to or supporting anything that looks like pro-rioting.”
Gym owners told CNN they had been pressuring CrossFit for several days to make a statement expressing support for protesters or the Black Lives Matter movement, as many other companies did following Floyd’s death.
Although no one on the call called him a racist, Glassman took issue with the fact that he had been labeled as such in a separate conversation.
“I was called a racist yesterday for the first time in my life,” Glassman said on the call. “First time anyone’s even hinted at that. And it didn’t hurt, it pissed me off. I had the same reaction I would if someone painted ‘pedophile’ on my front door.”
He also said that he believed CrossFit, as a fitness method, helps all kinds of people.
“I want to build CrossFit gyms that run free of charge in blighted neighborhoods. We’ve been playing with that for a long time,” Glassman said. “Now I hate even talking about it, and prior to this, it was all I talked about … But now I’ve got to say something special or I’m a [expletive] racist. And now this gym is going to look like I’m, like it’s [expletive] reparations or something.”
Last week, gyms began dropping their CrossFit affiliations over what some gym owners saw as a failure by the company to adequately speak out in support of the black community.
Then Saturday night, after the call, Glassman posted several tweets in which he criticized the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s statement that racism is a public health issue. “Floyd-19,” Glassman tweeted in response to the Institute’s tweet. In a follow-up tweet, Glassman said the health research institute’s coronavirus model “failed,” and he criticized it for modeling a “solution to racism.”
The tweets spurred hundreds more gyms leaving the company and brand partners ending their relationships with CrossFit. Glassman, who founded CrossFit two decades ago, stepped down from his role as chief executive on Tuesday.
Glassman apologized for his tweets, calling them “not racist but a mistake,” and saying “the CrossFit community will not stand for racism.” On Tuesday, in a statement announcing his resignation acknowledged he had “created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members.”
CrossFit also said on Facebook Friday that the company had been having conversations about “injustice, racism, and all forms of hate” and that it wanted to better support its black members.
CrossFit and Glassman did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Gym owners said the call was organized as a chance to discuss coronavirus, and how the gym owners were responding as states begin reopening. Gyms pay CrossFit an annual affiliate fee to use the company’s brand, which can help draw in customers.
On the call, Glassman expressed frustration with coronavirus related stay-at-home orders. He also cited a debunked theory that coronavirus originated from a lab in Wuhan, China, using an expletive to call it one of the greatest medical debacles “of my lifetime.”
“The first would be the Chinese letting this virus get out of the laboratory,” Glassman said on the call. “And that indeed did happen.”
President Donald Trump has promoted that theory, although administration and health officials have pushed back against it, saying the virus was not man-made.