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Hours before he posted a controversial tweet on Saturday night that has sparked backlash against his company, Greg Glassman, CrossFit's CEO and founder, told gym owners on a private Zoom call, “We're not mourning for George Floyd — I don't think me or any of my staff are,” according to a full recording of the meeting obtained by BuzzFeed News.
“Can you tell me why I should mourn for him? Other than that it’s the white thing to do — other than that, give me another reason,” he asked a Minneapolis gym owner who had questioned why the brand hadn’t posted a statement about the protests across the country after the death of George Floyd.
On Tuesday night, shortly after publication of this story, the company released a statement from Glassman saying that he had "decided to retire" and was stepping down as CEO.
"On Saturday I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members," Glassman said. "I cannot let my behavior stand in the way of HQ’s or affiliates’ missions. They are too important to jeopardize."
The 75-minute Zoom call, which was sent to BuzzFeed News via its secure tipline, was part of an initiative that CrossFit had started after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered gyms across the country. CrossFit affiliate owners who spoke with BuzzFeed News said they were invited at random to the check-in calls over the past three months with Glassman and other staffers from CrossFit's corporate headquarters.
The call was held hours before Glassman responded to a tweet on Saturday night that called racism a public health issue, writing, “It’s FLOYD-19.” His tweet drew immediate backlash from gym owners and caused Reebok to end a partnership deal with the company. CrossFit subsequently posted an apology on Glassman’s behalf, calling his words “not racist but a mistake.”
“Floyd is a hero in the black community and not just a victim,” he said in his public apology. “I should have been sensitive to that and wasn't. I apologize for that.”
But during the Zoom call hours earlier, which had been between 16 affiliates and staff members, Glassman repeatedly expressed doubts about whether systemic racism existed and questioned the motives of protests around the country.
“I doubt very much that they’re mourning for Floyd,” Glassman said on the call about protesters and CrossFitters who were looking for the company to speak out. “I don’t think that there’s a general mourning for Floyd in any community.”
He also recounted unfounded conspiracy theories on the call that included speculation Floyd was killed to “silence him” due to a purported, baseless role in a criminal conspiracy involving counterfeit money.
Glassman speculated that the nightclub where both Floyd and his alleged killer, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, worked has “been under investigation by the FBI for over a decade for laundering money.”
“It's very interesting that George gets popped with counterfeits, and who comes but the head of security from the dance club? Watch: This thing's going to turn into first-degree murder,” he said. “That's what it's going to turn into. And it's going to be because I'm predicting this. We have friends in the FBI in your neighborhood, and they're of the view that this was first-degree murder and it was to silence him over the counterfeit money. That's the belief. That's what the cops think.”
Glassman and representatives for CrossFit did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story, until hours after it was published. Then, CrossFit released the news of Glassman's "retirement" and a public statement titled "Why Didn't CrossFit Just Say Something?"
"We disappointed you," the company said. "It hurt you and us. We need to talk."
The letter called Glassman's comments "incredibly insensitive and hurtful," but said he should not be judged on those comments alone.
"Greg believes in equality," the statement added. "Greg made a mistake. His communications will have to be reconciled with the person we know. He is being put on trial online, and we challenge you to be thorough in your review of a man who is imperfect but sincere in his love of helping others to become better while creating opportunities for others to do the same. He does make mistakes, but he has done more than anyone for this community and created unimagined opportunities for others. If you measure Greg Glassman, do it thoroughly."
BuzzFeed News is publishing select clips from the call with Glassman, but not the full audio, in order to protect the identity of the source who shared it.
During the call, Glassman also complained about looting and buildings that had been set on fire. He questioned the legitimacy of the protest movement that has gripped the nation in the three weeks since Floyd’s death.
“Moved to action? Burning the city down, is that the action? Destruction of Black- and minority-owned businesses, is that the action?” Glassman asked while speaking to a gym owner from Minneapolis who detailed what their members had been doing to help the community in the aftermath of nights of looting and protests.
“I would prefer a trial of a murderer rather than burning the city down. I think that the law has a better response. I think burning your city to the ground and burning a police station to the ground because a cop killed what was very likely going to be a coconspirator in a counterfeit ring — I just don't get the burning thing. How about the Black cop that was killed?” Glassman said later in the call, adding that he wasn’t going to “fund antifa” — another conspiracy theory — because “a guy got killed.”
Glassman told the owners on the call that “killing George was wrong” before adding that “burning the town down was wrong, killing the Black cop was wrong, and the Black-on-Black murder every weekend in every one of our cities is a tragedy.”
He told the Minneapolis gym owner on the call that he thought the city’s plans to defund the police department were “terrifying” after they outlined how their community was trying to rebuild from Floyd’s death.
“It sounds like more of the same. It sounds like punishing the cops. It sounds like blaming the police for all of the problems in blighted communities, and I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth. Have you ever done a ride-along with cops in a rough neighborhood?” Glassman said. “You don’t have to answer, but I have many, many times, and that is crazy tough work and almost all of the men and women are professionals.“
During a lengthy discussion on the coronavirus, Glassman again shared more unfounded theories. “The Chinese let this virus get out of the laboratory, and that indeed did happen,” he said. (US intelligence officials have said they have not formally concluded whether the virus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.)
Glassman also trashed epidemiology as “a social science,” said upstate New Yorkers should secede from the rest of their state due to the strict lockdown measures in New York City, and urged gym owners to only pretend to comply with health precautions when they reopen.
“It was a panic. Absolute panic right from the start. And I think it's inevitable that it's going to turn out that this has cost way more lives than have been saved. Way more,” he said. “At some point, you've got to do what's right, and it may not come with approval. It may not be seen as the right thing to do, but you still have to do it. It's the burden.
“I was asked by the Italians, 'What would you do, coach?' And I said, 'I would agree to any restrictions put on me by the health authorities, and I would open my gym, and then 10 minutes later I would do whatever the fuck I wanted. That's what I would do.'"
Mike Young — the owner of a fitness facility in Morrisville, North Carolina, that contains a CrossFit affiliate — was one of the people on the call. He’d had the franchise for more than a decade and had been excited to speak with the CrossFit CEO and owner. “I get to meet this guy who’s probably been the biggest influence in this field,” Young told BuzzFeed News, “and then it turned into a shitshow, really, where the guy is just — conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory.
“My first thought was, I thought maybe I was being punked, but I knew how he was and I thought this is just batshit crazy. I’m sitting there, like, my jaw is dropping. Is this happening? What is this guy saying?
“It was just surreal,” he said.
Young, whose audio had not been working for most of the call, said he had to leave early to attend another meeting. He said he later wrote to the Minneapolis gym owner to apologize for not being able to defend them on the call.
“It was beyond awkward,” he said. “The way I would describe it, I was privy to information from a private conversation that the world should know about. This guy has a couple thousand of these CrossFit affiliates, and he’s the figurehead, and he’s speaking like a lunatic at a time when things like COVID-19 and George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, are basically already causing unrest. And the things he’s saying are unsubstantiated conspiracy theories — inflammatory nonsense, really.”
Young said he went to bed on Saturday night with the conversation weighing on him. When he woke up on Sunday, he decided to take a stand and publicly announce he would no longer work with CrossFit. He prepared a post on Medium, but Glassman had already written his “FLOYD-19” tweet. But because Young did not record the call, he said, he tried to not go into specific details in his Medium post about what Glassman had said in order to avoid a potential lawsuit.
“The tweet is bad. It’s insensitive,” he said. “But as someone who listened to the call, you know the tweet is nothing compared to the phone call."
Near the end of the call, when a gym owner suggested they were considering dropping their affiliation with CrossFit, another CrossFit headquarters staff member spoke to defend Glassman. “You’re not even approaching this with any compassion. You’re approaching this strictly with your agenda,” they told the gym owner. “Do you know how many Black people are going to be saved by CrossFit?”
CrossFit’s days of backlash started when Alyssa Royse, an affiliate owner from Seattle, posted an email that she had received from Glassman in response to a letter she wrote detailing why her gym would be leaving the brand.
“You're doing your best to brand us as racist and you know it's bullshit,” Glassman wrote back. “That makes you a really shitty person. Do you understand that? You've let your politics warp you into something that strikes me as wrong to the point of being evil. I am ashamed of you.”
Glassman went further on the call with affiliates that did not include Royse, saying that her letter had “all of the class, all of the moral value of putting a sign in someone’s yard that says ‘known pedophile.’”
“It’s a horrible fucking thing to do to someone, to call them a racist when there’s no evidence, when there’s not one scintilla of evidence to suggest anything like that, and that’s what she did to me. And what I sent her back was a ‘Fuck off!'” Glassman told the members of the Zoom call. “You call me a racist and I'mma tell you, ‘Fuck you!’ You tell me to spin around twice or I’m a racist and I’ll go, ‘Fuck you!’ We can get to 'fuck you' a bunch of ways. What it leads me to believe is that this isn’t about race.”
Ryan Brooks is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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David Mack is a deputy director of breaking news for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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