Greg Glassman was CEO of Crossfit, a fitness system that is affiliated with many gyms. He shared insane and racially insensitive conspiracy theories on a call with gym owners — and then the company issued a rambling and ineffective statement to justify itself. Glassman’s now out the door. The statement is practically a case study on how not to apologize.
If you want the full account of what happened at CrossFit, read the BuzzFeed News story. Gyms are in trouble right now due to COVID-19-related closures, and CrossFit held regular calls with some of its gym owners. According to gym owner Mike Young:
[W]hen an affiliate owner from Minneapolis was given the chance to speak, the call took a turn. She asked Glassman to speak about CrossFit’s stance on the current racial tensions in the country and the Black Lives Matter movement. CrossFit had been notably silent on the topic. Greg’s opening response was, “I do not mourn George Floyd.” He actually repeated that exact line several times. He also denied any notion that racism might exist in some police forces and he seemed to downplay racism at all.
BuzzFeed reports that Glassman “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.”
After the call and subsequent reporting, several gym owners and Reebok severed ties with Crossfit.
The 10 strategy mistakes in CrossFit’s statement made things much worse
At best, Glassman’s words were insensitive. At worst, he’s aligned himself with multiple discredited conspiracy theories. But put that aside for a moment. It’s possible to recover from a scandal like this. Imagine that you’re in charge of messaging for CrossFit. How do you repair the damage?
You acknowledge the problem, take concrete action against racism, and promise to do better. And you keep it short. The fewer excuses you make, the better.
Instead, here’s CrossFit’s 1365-word response to the controversy, from yesterday, with my commentary — including the ten key mistakes that the company made.
Why Didn’t CrossFit Just Say Something?
This letter is from CrossFit Headquarters, which plays host to a cadre of independent thinkers who come from all walks of life and hold many different beliefs. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to a visionary approach to health and fitness and our mission to bring that vision to the larger community. We love CrossFit. It is our common ground.
We disappointed you.
It hurt you and us. We need to talk.
The CrossFit community is in need of peace. This year has put unrelenting pressure on us all, exposed unaddressed flaws, and been near unbearable for many.
Change is needed. We all need healing.
Exhaustion and a long history of silent grievances have been laid bare on social media. We cannot change what has happened, but we ask for forgiveness while we thoroughly examine ourselves.
Mistake One: Start with what you did wrong and then apologize for it. Instead, the statement fails to describe what went wrong and makes excuses right off the bat: “This year has put unrelenting pressure on us all.” Notice the passive constructions: “Change is needed . . . Grievances have been laid bare on social media.” They’re a telltale sign that CrossFit doesn’t really want to take any blame for what happened and what its founder actually said.
Why Did Greg Say That?
Greg Glassman founded CrossFit and is responsible for delivering a life-changing and paradigm-altering truth. The methodology he created provides an elegant solution to the problem of chronic disease ravaging our world today. He is passionately focused on that message and its implications. He relentlessly attacks those who dilute or deny essential truths.
That does not excuse the fact that Greg’s statements were incredibly insensitive and hurtful. Please accept our deepest apology for contributing to the pain and confusion permeating our community — a community we love and respect for its vibrancy, strength of spirit, and diversity.
Mistake Two: Don’t brag about how great you are before apologizing. And even after CrossFit reminds everyone how great it is, it doesn’t explain what statements Greg made or why they were helpful. The apology is for “contributing to the pain and confusion permeating our community,” not for minimizing the death of a man at the hands of police or for spreading conspiracy theories. You can’t apologize properly unless you prove you understand what you did wrong.
CrossFit is a collection of many voices. Though we have never spoken to you with this degree of candor outside the realm of fitness and health, we are taking the step to do that now.
CrossFit affiliates, trainers, athletes, and other members of this community have shouldered the burdens and reaped the benefits that come with sharing in CrossFit’s life-changing message.
Over the years, we have not always communicated with the community on time. We have not functioned like other organizations, and the affiliates have had to trust us in some impossible moments. This time we asked for too much patience from our community. And recently, when the world was already under incredible pressure, we were not there for you online. We were not there for you in our communications.
We Publish the Truth
We pride ourselves on authenticity and truth, but we got it wrong by failing to tell you we really care about black people and support the need for real change.
We weren’t sure how to get the message right, and as a result, we failed catastrophically by not effectively communicating care for the Black community, all as the online world was watching and experiencing extreme pain.
We, the members of CrossFit HQ, have failed to meet a moment when the community wanted to hear from us most. For that, we extend our deepest and sincerest apologies. We are sorry.
The online community is passionate and powerful. It reflects a collection of thoughts, ideas, moments, and interests. It forges deep connections, unity, profound division, and everything in between. We know this community comprises an active and vocal population as well as an equally silent but vigilant cohort that has been waiting patiently. It is a great responsibility and honor to serve as its stewards and defenders.
Mistake Three: Don’t ramble. This stuff is just meaningless and irrelevant. “CrossFit affiliates, trainers, athletes, and other members of this community have shouldered the burdens and reaped the benefits that come with sharing in CrossFit’s life-changing message.” Who cares? “Over the years, we have not always communicated with the community on time.” Irrelevant! “We got it wrong by failing to tell you we really care about black people and support the need for real change. We weren’t sure how to get the message right, and as a result, we failed catastrophically by not effectively communicating care for the Black community.” Platitudes! You’re not going to fix a mistake like this by writing “we love black people.”
Mistake Four: Apologize for what you actually did, not for some general and mushy state of affairs. This statement apologizes for how it “failed to meet a moment when the community wanted to hear from us most.” Umm, no. What you did wrong was to meet the legitimate questions from your gym owners with insensitivity, to call racial unrest “FLOYD-19,” and to respond to a man’s murder by police by sharing conspiracy theories about what he did wrong. That’s not quite “failing to meet a moment.”
The Black community is hurting around the globe. The community called upon us to speak, and we improperly answered. That was a mistake. We heard you and got in our own way while trying to figure out how to convey our message truthfully without following a trend, shaming, or creating division.
Mistake Five: Don’t make excuses. CrossFit didn’t “get in our own way.” It fucked up by being totally tone-deaf, insensitive, and borderline racist.
We Support Diversity and Inclusion
It is rare for us to speak on these types of issues. We struggled the past few weeks because we allowed our desire to get it right to paralyze us. Tackling social justice issues of this magnitude is not our strength as a company, because our varied points of view sometimes devolve into dysfunction. But we can agree on two things: We are a team dedicated to fitness and health. This team is anti-racist. Therefore, we are committed to scrutinizing ourselves internally, continuing to listen to the community, and taking actions in support of change.
Greg believes in equality. 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.
But none of this has any bearing on the need for reform, reconciliation, and change.
Mistake Six: The louder you proclaim your lack of prejudice, the less believable it is. This is a version of “We don’t see color.” And it’s offensive to people of color.
Why Were We Silent?
As a team, we do not see eye to eye on every issue. We have internal disagreements on the nuances of everything you see published online. We aim for the truth. We are highly critical of ourselves, at times to our detriment.
We struggled to speak to the Black community because we overly complicated the need to care and respond. The same scrutiny we bring to assembling an article on CrossFit.com is not needed for telling the Black community we love them and we support them. We have not properly done the work to make it clear that you are welcome and wanted in this community.
Mistake Seven: Don’t describe your process. Hurt people don’t care about your internal deliberations and uncertainty.
The Black Community Is Strong
We care about black lives in every respect and in every aspect of society. That means we support the black police officer who upholds justice, like retired officer David Dorn, as strongly as we cannot stand for the injustice George Floyd faced two weeks ago. Both truths are possible and can coexist.
Mistake Eight: Stay on point. A black policeman named David Dorn was shot during the protests. If you want to make a “both sides” point, you can . . . but the time to do that is not right after you fucked up by telling people “We don’t mourn George Floyd.” It’s hard to believe you care about black lives when you kept repeating that on a call with gym owners.
Speaking Outside of Fitness
How do you speak effectively, accurately, and authentically to a community you love so much when what’s at stake is the possibility of irreparable division?
We still do not know.
But this team will continue to pour its heart out in service of the community. We are flawed, we make mistakes, but we are pure in our intentions, and we will continue to engage in rigorous self-examination and self-betterment, because we owe you that much and so much more.
Social Media Has Incredible Potential
Social platforms are powerful, and the activity on them can amplify unity and contribute to meaningful change. Or it can polarize and divide. That power should be respected. The platform provides a permanent record of momentary thoughts and evolving beliefs as well as grave mistakes and wrongdoings — often while offering no clues that would allow one to distinguish between the two. Human interaction allows for more context and candor. Both types of interaction should be properly respected and valued. We must respect our responsibility to both forms of communication and be accountable to those who trust us.
We Are Strong Together
Despite our many disagreements, we are unified in the most important areas. We stand against racism. The valuing and antagonism of another human based on race is abhorrent and wrong. It is not welcome here. We stand against injustice. We were collectively traumatized as we witnessed the murder of George Floyd. His murder was inhuman and wrong.
Mistake Nine: Keep it short. This is irrelevant padding. An apology statement is not the place for an extended soliloquy.
This Message Is Late, Long, and Imperfect
This is the message we should have sent to the community we love. We know we are too late, but here we stand. Please review this apology and take a moment to pause, reflect, and digest what we have said. Our team sees the decisions being made in reaction to our founder’s actions as part of the healing process that is much needed for many around the world. However, we want to reach out to all who may be willing to forgive us as we work through an internal acknowledgement of our faults and find a way forward that allows for true healing and repair. For some, the break may be irreparable. We understand and wish you well regardless. We’re going to do what we can to be better with the hope of building a better world on the other side of this.
Mistake Ten: If you’re going to ask for forgiveness, get to it. This last section is the best part of this message. Regrettably, by this point, anyone who could possibly have sympathy for Greg Glassman has given up.
There’s a cost to bad apologies
Having trashed CrossFit’s brand, Greg Glassman is “retiring.” In a statement published later on the same day as this long, botched apology, he says: “On Saturday I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members. . . . I cannot let my behavior stand in the way of HQ’s or affiliates’ missions. They are too important to jeopardize.”
Too late. Regrettably, by first being stupid on a call, and later sharing a rambling non-apology, Glassman has jeopardized 20 years of work on CrossFit.
Don’t be an idiot when it comes to race. If you are, though, don’t make things worse with a terrible, self-justifying, rambling apology.