Meet Greg Glassman, the former CrossFit CEO whose comments about George Floyd torpedoed the company's relationships with brands, athletes, and gyms

By Katie Warren

Greg Glassman is the cofounder and CEO of CrossFit, a fitness company with a cult following that generates about $4 billion in annual revenue, per Forbes.

Glassman is facing backlash for an insensitive tweet as well as alleged private comments he made about George Floyd over the weekend, as tens of thousands of people across the world continued to protest over Floyd's death and racial injustice.

In response to a tweet from a health research institution that classified racism as a public health issue, Glassman tweeted, "It's FLOYD-19." Separately, a CrossFit affiliate gym owner alleges that, in a Zoom call with employees and gym owners over the weekend, Glassman said, "I do not mourn George Floyd" and seemed to downplay racism.

Glassman has since apologized for his tweet about Floyd, but not before an outcry that saw Reebok, affiliate gyms, and athletes end their relationships with CrossFit. Per Morning Chalk Up, more than 100 affiliate gyms have cut ties with the brand so far, and CrossFit athletes are denouncing the CEO's comments and pledging to boycott the 2020 CrossFit Games.

Glassman stepped down as CEO of the popular fitness brand on June 9, saying "I cannot let my behavior stand in the way of HQ's or affiliates' missions."

"I'm stepping down as CEO of CrossFit, Inc., and I have decided to retire," he said in a statement. "On Saturday I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members."

Glassman cofounded CrossFit in 2000 with his then-wife, Lauren Jenai, and the brand has since grown to more than 15,000 affiliate gyms in the US and around the world. While the Washington Post has estimated Glassman's net worth at $100 million, Forbes, which tracks the wealth of the richest Americans, does not have an estimate for Glassman's net worth. 

CrossFit did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment for this story.

Here's how Glassman went from a teenage gymnast to the CEO of a $4 billion brand.

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Greg Glassman in a 2016 video supporting Nanette Barragan.

CrossFit is a workout regimen that combines elements of gymnastics, calisthenics, and Olympic powerlifting. Workouts are typically short and high-intensity.

Many CrossFit workouts have women's' names like Angie, Barbara, or Fran in the way that storms and hurricanes typically have female names.

Glassman is often quoted as saying that they are named as such because the workouts are so physically demanding that you feel like a storm has hit you.

Per Box Rox fitness magazine, Glassman said, "I think anything that leaves you laying on your back gasping for air wondering what just happened to you should be named after a girl."

There are more than 15,000 CrossFit affiliate gyms, or "boxes," in the US and abroad, and the company generates about $4 billion in annual revenue, per a 2015 Forbes estimate.

Glassman himself could be worth as much as $100 million, per a Washington Post estimate. But Forbes, which tracks the wealth of the richest Americans, does not have an estimate for Glassman's net worth.

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Greg Glassman (right) talks to employees in Washington, DC on July 31, 2015.
Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images

As a teenager who did competitive gymnastics, Glassman discovered how much stronger he could get using dumbbells and a barbell rather than relying solely on bodyweight exercises, as most gymnasts did, per The Box Magazine, a CrossFit magazine devoted to community members.

Glassman worked as a personal trainer for several years and then opened a gym in Santa Cruz, California, in 1995. At the gym, he started holding group workout classes rather than just focusing on individual clients, per The Box. In 2000, CrossFit was officially established.

The 63-year-old CEO no longer practices CrossFit himself, Inc. magazine reported in 2013,

A CrossFit coach watches a participant do a deadlift during a CrossFit workout on March 14, 2014 in San Anselmo, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As Edward Cooper reported for Men's Health magazine, the foremost appeal of CrossFit is that the workouts get physical results. The intense, small classes also quickly build a sense of camaraderie among participants.

"Everyone knows your name and knows that you smashed your back squat personal best the other day," Tom Parker, head coach at a CrossFit affiliate in Reading, England, told Men's Health in 2017.

CrossFit is particularly popular among police officers, firefighters, and members of the military, per The New York Times. Navy Seals and Special Forces groups are known to do CrossFit workouts, and the Times reported in 2005 that a Marine Corps captain was teaching CrossFit to his division in California.

People exercise outside a CrossFit gym in the Netherlands on May 23, 2020.
Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Five years after it started, there were 13 affiliate CrossFit gyms, per The Box Magazine.

Today, there are more than 15,000, according to the company.

Most of CrossFit's revenue comes from these affiliate gyms, each of which pays the company an annual fee of $3,000, per Forbes. The company also offers $1,000 seminars for its affiliates that explain the CrossFit philosophy, the fundamental movements, and how to teach CrossFit. 

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A woman does a deadlift during a CrossFit workout on March 14, 2014 in San Anselmo, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

CrossFit has been linked to a rare and potentially fatal kidney condition called rhabdomyolysis, which is typically caused by crush injuries found in victims of car accidents or collapsed buildings but can also be a result of extreme muscle strain in untrained athletes.

In 2013, Eric Robertson, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Regis University, wrote in HuffPost that rhabdomyolysis is "so commonly encountered in CrossFit that they have a cartoon about it."

Robertson warned against the CrossFit mindset of practitioners pushing themselves to the extreme. But some CrossFit aficionados consider a visit from "Uncle Rhabdo," as they call it, to be a badge of honor, per The Conversation.

A common refrain among CrossFit fans is "I met Pukey," which means they worked out so hard they vomited, per The New York Times.

"[CrossFit] can kill you," Glassman told The New York Times in a 2005 interview. "I've always been completely honest about that."

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Protesters confront police outside the 3rd Police Precinct on May 27, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The gym owner, Alyssa Royse, wrote a letter to CrossFit and Glassman on June 3 asking CrossFit to publicly take a stand against systemic racism.

"A brand should tell someone what to expect. CrossFit, as a business, has taken a stand opposite that," Royse wrote in the letter.

In what Royse says was Glassman's response, and which Royse published in a blog post, the CEO called her "a sh--ty person" and said he was ashamed of her.

Before Glassman's apology for the Floyd tweet, CrossFit social media accounts had not mentioned Floyd's death, the recent protests, or the Black Lives Matter movement — and Royse wasn't the only one who took notice.

Recent comments on the company's Instagram account include, "Your silence is deafening" and "Black Lives Matter."

One person wrote: "For a 'community' that encourages people to cheer for everyone, you're doing an exceptionally sh--ty job of showing your support for those that need it most. Silence speaks volumes, and everyone can hear it."

As Business Insider's Shoshy Ciment reported, other fitness brands have spoken out during the protests. Nike released an ad about ending racism and bigotry and pledged to donate $40 million to support the Black community. 

CrossFit did not respond to Business Insider's multiple requests for comment.

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Glassman in a March 2019 interview on YouTube channel Team Richey.

In fact, CrossFit's Wikipedia page has an entire section devoted to the company's social media controversies.

In 2015, Glassman feuded with pop singer Nick Jonas after CrossFit posted a tweet signed by Glassman with an image of a Coca-Cola bottle and the words "Open Diabetes."

Jonas, who has said he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 13, called out the company on Twitter, writing: "This is not cool. Please know and understand the difference between type one and type [two] diabetes before making ignorant comments. Sensitivity to all diseases, and proper education on the cause and day to day battle is important."

In an emailed statement to ABC News at the time, Glassman said, in part: "This is about the scourge of Type 2 diabetes and its underlying causes. [Jonas'] sponsor, Coca-Cola, is a significant contributor to the diabetes epidemic both with product and 'marketing' spend."

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Woman who filed the suit against CrossFit not pictured.

CrossFit reversed its policy in 2018 and now allows transgender athletes to register for its annual CrossFit Games based on their gender identity rather than the sex they were assigned at birth.

In a 2019 interview with the South China Morning Post, Glassman said CrossFit was not trying to make any sort of social or political statement with the new policy.

"We've got no interest in excluding anyone and this is not my f-----g issue," he said. "My issue is blood sugar control and chronic disease, that's what I care about. I don't care if you are L, G, B, T or Q, I honest to God don't care. And so what I want to do is just do that thing that everyone else does. I don't want to be groundbreaking, or discriminatory."

Source: CNN

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