A recent tweet from CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman was met with outrage by Twitter users as well as brands and affiliate gyms. After Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHM) posted a tweet that classifies racism and discrimination as a public health issue, Glassman replied with “It’s FLOYD-19,” which was naturally called out for being insensitive and racist in light of the murder of George Floyd who died after a police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest.
Glassman followed up the tweet the following day, criticizing IHM’s quarantine models and sympathy with national protests. Alyssa Royce, owner of Seattle-based Rocket CrossFit, one of CrossFit’s partner gyms, sent Glassman an email questioning his stance on nationwide riots about Floyd’s death as well as the global pandemic. Glassman replied to Royce by referencing her mental health, saying she is delusional for regarding herself as “the conscience of CrossFit.” The CEO labeled the message as manipulative to the point of being evil. In response, Rocket CrossFit will be changing its name to Rocket Community Fitness as well as filing for disaffiliation from CrossFit once it renews its contract.
This incident was immediately followed by other brands severing their ties with CrossFit. Sporting goods company Reebok confirmed that it will terminate its partnership with CrossFit as a title sponsor for the CrossFit Games after its contract ends this year. Similarly, NCFIT, CrossFit Magnus, Petworth Fitness and Champlain Valley CrossFit (which is changing its name to Champlain Valley Community Fitness), announced that they’re ending their associations with the company. CrossFit Games champions Katrín Davíðsdóttir and Jason Khalipa also publicly denounced the CEO for his tone-deaf remark.
Apparently, this wasn’t the first time a tweet from a CrossFit executive caused public disapproval. Russell Berger, chief knowledge officer of CrossFit, was fired in 2018 after posting a tweet calling LGBTQ pride a “sin,” along with other homophobic tweets.
What the actions of CrossFit executives have shown is that social media is a huge platform that can terminate a decades’ worth of building a business in a span of minutes, a permanent result that cannot be immediately taken back, reversed or forgotten by releasing a public apology, as Glassman did, on Twitter. He explained that he was overly emotional with how IHM involved Floyd in finding a solution to the current crisis. In his thread of tweets, Glassman states that what he said wasn’t a racist comment, but a mistake, and that the CrossFit community is fighting for justice as much as others are.
In the digital age, businesses should have learned by now that maintaining a positive brand image is a continuous process and rebuilding a reputation, especially one tarnished by virality, isn’t just a company crisis: It’s a PR and marketing disaster, too.
Social media, aside from being free, is the most commonly used platform around the world. Now that the majority of individuals have their lives hinged on it, especially during quarantine where everyone is forced into confinement, social media can be an avenue for business development and expansion—if used correctly. In less than 15 characters, Glassman’s insensitivity on social media ended partnerships, deals and even personal relationships, affecting not just the organization but the people working behind it and the fitness community it was trying to build.
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