How often have we seen this scenario play out? A brilliant and charismatic company founder who refuses to play by the rules enjoys considerable success, only to be hoisted by their own petard after making an off-color remark or engaging in scandalous or erratic behavior. We could be talking about American Apparel’s Dov Charney, or perhaps Uber’s Travis Kalanick, or Adam Neumann of WeWork. Today’s it’s Greg Glassman, founder of the global fitness craze CrossFit.
Glassman stepped down as CEO of CrossFit, the company he founded with his ex-wife Linda 20 years ago in Santa Cruz, Calif. and which now licenses its name to more than 14,000 gyms worldwide. The 63 year old said he has retired.
Dave Castro, director of the CrossFit Games and co-director of training, will take over as CEO. Glassman will retain full ownership of the company.
In a statement on CrossFit’s corporate website Glassman wrote: “On Saturday I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members. Since I founded CrossFit 20 years ago, it has become the world’s largest network of gyms. All are aligned in offering an elegant solution to the vexing problem of chronic disease. Creating CrossFit and supporting its affiliates and legions of professional trainers has been a labor of love.
“Those who know me know that my sole issue is the chronic disease epidemic. I know that CrossFit is the solution to this epidemic and that CrossFit HQ and its staff serve as the stewards of CrossFit affiliates worldwide. I cannot let my behavior stand in the way of HQ’s or affiliates’ missions. They are too important to jeopardize.”
On June 6, Glassman sparked outraged among CrossFit gym owners, their members, and the larger fitness community after belittling the racial strife highlighted in America in the wake of George Floyd’s death, calling it “FLOYD-19” on Twitter and reportedly saying on a Zoom call with gym owners, “I do not mourn George Floyd.”
A day later, Glassman apologized through the company’s official Twitter account but denied being racist. “I, CrossFit HQ, and the CrossFit community will not stand for racism,” he wrote. “I made a mistake by the words I chose yesterday. My heart is deeply saddened by the pain it has caused. It was a mistake, not racist but a mistake.”
By then the damage was done.
Reebok, which has licensed the CrossFit name for an apparel line since 2010 and also sponsors its flagship competition event The CrossFit Games, said it was ending its agreement with the company. High profile CrossFit athletes including Tia Clair said that their future association with the brand remained unclear. And more than 1,000 owners ended their CrossFit affiliations, according to a crowdsourced document reviewed by Fortune. CrossFit Inc. did not respond to emails from Fortune.
Privately held CrossFit Inc. does not disclose its financials, but valuations for the company have been estimated as high as $4 billion. The company licenses its names to gyms it calls “boxes” for a $3,000 per year fee, and charges $1,000 to license an instructor. In addition, it collects entrance fees for the CrossFit Games, which has been broadcast on ESPN, and other sanctioned events.
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