Over the weekend CrossFit’s former chief executive officer, Greg Glassman, took another set of blows. Two damming articles, one by The New York Times and the other by Business Insider, allege a culture of “sexual harassment” and “toxic misogyny” at CrossFit Inc. that started with Glassman himself as the company’s leader and founder.
Glassman found himself first engulfed in a firestorm early in June after he tweeted “It’s FLOYD-19” in response to a tweet from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation which featured a picture that stated “Racism is a public health issue”.
This was compounded by an email he sent to a long-time affiliate owner whom he called a “really s***** person”, and a Zoom call made public where he said no one at CrossFit was mourning the death of George Floyd, among other discretions.
Glassman formally stepped down on June 10 and CrossFit Games director Dave Castro was named the new CEO, but the company – CrossFit Inc. – seems to have done little to sway public opinion back in its favour.
CrossFit announced it is hoping to host its annual CrossFit Games on August 17 in California. Castro already had a PR slip-up saying Rich Froning would make a perfect CrossFit Games director for 2021, to which Froning said this was the first he had heard of it.
The growing chorus against Glassman and his leadership style has essentially morally bankrupted CrossFit of any standing within its own community. More that 1,500 gyms have stated they will no longer affiliate with the company, and two major sponsors – Reebok and Rogue – have pulled support for the beleaguered company.
To say things are complicated in the world of CrossFit would be an understatement – they are a mess. Not only have a number of high-profile athletes also said they will not attend the Games until they feel real leadership comes to CrossFit Inc. (Glassman remains the company's owner), but Covid-19 restrictions make hosting an event more or less a pipe dream.
A piece in the Morning Chalk Up by Tommy Marquez does an excellent job at detailing the red tape and numerous hurdles CrossFit Inc. will have to overcome just to pull off a scaled down competition already slashed to 30 competitors for both men and women. It will not even feature the team competition (which Froning has stepped in to run separately on his own). This also takes into account that many overseas athletes trying to attend the Games might not even be able to make the trip in the first place due to lockdown restrictions.
CrossFit slogging ahead with the Games, despite its controversies and the coronavirus, could very well happen, but two key figures – Mat Fraser and Tia-Clair Toomey – could deal the final death blow to CrossFit Inc. Fraser, the four-time defending champion, and Toomey, the three-time defending champion, are friends and regularly train together.
Both have publicly stated they were unhappy with Glassman’s leadership. Toomey said on Instagram on June 8 that “My future with CrossFit is unclear and depends on the direction of HQ”. Fraser said “I do not support Greg Glassman and I’m frustrated he’s at the helm of CrossFit” on June 10, soon before Glassman stepped down.
I wanted to start by saying that I am incredibly saddened, disappointed and frustrated with the actions and words of Crossfit HQ and in particular Greg Glassman. I’m deeply apologetic from the bottom of my heart to all the people who have had to witness this ignorance and the pain it causes. A lack of acknowledgement and empathy for those who are fighting for basic human rights and equality is simply inexcusable and it’s behaviour that we cannot stand for. It has made both Shane and I incredibly ashamed to be a part of an organisation that we have dedicated so much of ourselves to. If it has us angered and disappointed like we are, we couldn’t even begin to imagine how these words and actions affect the extremely diverse global community of crossfitters and supporters who have all dedicated so much time, money and passion to the sport. But this is much bigger than the sport. For those who continue to be dismissive of inequality, you must understand that this is a truly GLOBAL issue and we NO longer can sit idle and do or say nothing. It’s on ALL of us to keep fighting the cause globally until systemic racism and the inhumane treatment of black communities around the globe no longer exists. I said earlier that this issue is much bigger than sport, yet sport and the functional fitness space has a really important part to play. Sport and fitness bring us together and unite us in such a powerful and profound way. I want my platform to drive positivity, unity and the overall message that no matter your skin colour or cultural background, we should all inspire one another to be the best versions of themselves. I want my platform to reflect the values and beliefs of the community I feel most comfortable in, a community that raises up those around them and gives everybody their own individual opportunity to be a champion. My future with Crossfit is unclear and depends on the direction of HQ. I will continue to stand against ignorance and stand alongside those who fight abuse, hatred and racism.
A post shared by Tia-Clair Toomey (@tiaclair1) on
Since then they have gone back to regular postings on their social media accounts (Instagram being CrossFit’s bread and butter), and neither has formally made a public statement specifically against, or for, heading to the Games.
To put it bluntly, there is no men’s or women’s competition without these two. They have been the dominant figures for years and a Games without one or both of them would not be a fulsome picture of the sport.
Nobody would actually want to win the men’s competition if Fraser declined to go, and the same with Toomey and the women. It would come with a big asterisk and essentially be nullified in the hearts and minds of the community.
I felt like it went without saying but I want it to be clear, I do not support Greg Glassman and I’m frustrated he’s at the helm of CrossFit. My intention with my previous post was to highlight the leaders in our community that are taking action, not to avoid addressing my disappointment. I’ve dedicated my life to this sport. I’ve become the person I am today through the lessons I’ve learned in training and competition. I do not attribute my successes (or failures) to the organization. - I‘m grateful for those who have opened their gym doors to me over the years and supported me throughout my career. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world through this sport and appreciate the warm welcome from every gym, and their members. The community we have will survive this and it is not defined by one man’s opinion. I’m looking for change and my support will be given to those leading the way. #HWPO
A post shared by Mathew Fraser (@mathewfras) on
However, if both Fraser and Toomey decide to give CrossFit a lifeline and subsequent show of support under Castro’s new leadership, it will give CrossFit Inc. at least another few months on life support and potentially a chance to start the long process of reviving its image.
The chance these two make their decision in lockstep is extremely high given how close they are, and a ‘no show’ will mean it is all but done for CrossFit Inc. and its Games. The sport will then have to pivot and find alternative ways to move on.
The Rogue Invitational and its incredibly professional virtual competition shows the community does have other avenues and ways to go without “CrossFit” and its accompanying trademarks, while the community remains as robust as ever.
Fraser and Toomey declining their Games invites would be a death knell for CrossFit Inc., but possibly signal the start of a new beginning for the sport.