CrossFit CEO Shows How It’s Not Done
The resignation this week of CrossFit Inc.’s founder and CEO due to a two-word, tone-deaf, social-media message is a nice reminder that, while many consumers want companies and their leaders to address social issues, it really is a good idea to look before you tweet.
Greg Glassman announced Tuesday, June 9, he was stepping down. The catalyst was his June 6 tweet in response to a health-research institute, which said, uncontroversially, that racism is a public-health issue.
“It’s Floyd-19,” Glassman responded, unwisely conflating the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, by a white police officer. It also later came out that Glassman had told gym owners that same day but before posting his tweet, “We’re not mourning for George Floyd — I don’t think me or any of my staff are.”
Given the sensitivities and mass protests around Floyd’s horrific death, the tweet was an obvious mistake. The message also rankled because CrossFit, a closely held hardcore-fitness company in Santa Cruz, California, had not commented on the killing or the resulting Black Lives Matter protests. (On Friday, it did have a Facebook post addressing racism that didn’t mention Floyd or BLM.)
— Greg Glassman (@CrossFitCEO) June 6, 2020
Companies have been struggling with how to respond to Floyd’s death and the protests. Glassman clearly didn’t struggle enough. Organizations should see to it that even a CEO’s — especially a CEO’s — social-media messages are reviewed by others before being posted to make sure they aren’t stupid.
Media companies, including wire services, have policies stating that nothing, not even a standalone headline, goes out without a fresh pair of eyeballs on it. Companies and other organizations would be wise to adopt such a policy. It’s a simple rule.
As it was, Glassman’s tweet caused much damage. Hundreds of gyms have said they will no longer pay the fee to be branded CrossFit, company director of training Nicole Carroll resigned, and athletes announced they won’t participate in the CrossFit Games. Adidas AG unit Reebok, in an act of quick crisis communications, announced Sunday it won’t renew its 10-year sponsorship of the annual competition. “Will CrossFit Survive?” The New York Times asked.
Glassman tried to quell the problem with an apology of sorts on Sunday. “I made a mistake by the words I chose yesterday,” he wrote. “My heart is deeply saddened by the pain it has caused. It was a mistake, not racist but a mistake” (many would disagree with the “not racist” bit).
It didn’t work. Glassman announced his retirement on Tuesday. It was astonishing how quickly a two-word tweet brought down a company leader.
We struggled to speak to the Black community because we overly complicated the need to care and respond.
— CrossFit Inc.
CrossFit itself finally addressed the situation in a lengthy statement after Glassman stepped down. A major theme was that the company failed to speak out because it didn’t know what to say: “We struggled to speak to the Black community because we overly complicated the need to care and respond.”
While thinking before speaking (what Glassman didn’t do) is good, the company waited too long. The statement meandered — it was CrossFit thinking out loud. At least it admitted that: “This message is late, long, and imperfect,” it wrote.
Of course, shouldn’t CrossFit have prepared for such a crisis?
Photo Credit: Victor Freitas/Unsplash
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