This story is available exclusively on Business Insider Prime.
Join BI Prime and start reading now.
- Greg Glassman, founder of cult-following fitness brand CrossFit, announced that he would be stepping down as CEO on June 9.
- The announcement came after he was widely criticized for a tweet that read “It’s FLOYD-19” in response to racism being a public health issue.
- Business Insider spoke to more than 30 former HQ employees, and current and former affiliate gym owners and CrossFit athletes.
- Insiders claim the culture of the workplace demeaned women, operated off retribution, and was ruled by a fear of getting on Glassman’s bad side. A CrossFit spokesperson declined to comment on CrossFit’s workplace culture.
- Are you a former or current CrossFit employee, gym owner, or athlete with a story to share? Email the reporters at [email protected] or [email protected]
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The tweet that did him in was short.
On June 6, Greg Glassman, founder and CEO of cult-following gym CrossFit, took to Twitter and, in response to another tweet about racism being a public health issue, wrote: “It’s FLOYD-19.”
The tweet, which came at the height of protests over police brutality following the killing of George Floyd and three months into the coronavirus pandemic, was widely criticized. Glassman issued an apology the next day, writing, “It was a mistake, not racist but a mistake,” but the backlash was swift.
On June 7, Reebok, the company’s biggest sponsor, announced it would back out of its 10-year sponsorship at the end of the year. By June 18, more than 1,400 gyms had dropped or were in the process of dropping their CrossFit affiliations, according to Morning Chalk Up. (A CrossFit spokesperson said the official number is closer to 450, but that there could be additional owners who intend to disaffiliate but have not yet begun the process.) And on June 9, Glassman announced he would be stepping down from his role as CEO.
The tweet was the most recent in a string of controversial comments that were, according to sources, indicative of the way Glassman ran CrossFit. A former video producer at the Scotts Valley, California headquarters, Marston Sawyers, told Business Insider, “The whole culture was kind of built on controversy and they would always try to push that.”
Business Insider spoke to more than 30 former corporate employees, and current and former brand athletes and affiliate gym owners to get an inside look at the company’s culture. Across these conversations, a series of trends emerged. Insiders claimed there was a toxic workplace that demeaned women, operated off retribution, and was ruled by a fear of getting on Glassman’s bad side.
The CrossFit empire is vast
Glassman launched Cross-Fit in 1995 in Santa Cruz with his then-wife, Lauren Jenai (Glassman has been married three times). The couple had been kicked out of gym after gym for their unorthodox training methods. CrossFit was formally founded as a gym in 2000.
“We started from nothing,” Jenai told Business Insider. “We had a tight, amazing family and drew amazing people into the company.”
Tony Blauer, a longtime friend of Glassman’s who designed the self defense program for CrossFit, credits Glassman’s coaching with its early success.
“Greg … was onto something, and the people that got it, got it,” Blauer told Business Insider. “He attracted inspired and motivated people around him who helped him grow it.”
Glassman’s tendency to take on battles was what initially allowed CrossFit to stand out, former employee Tommy Marquez, who worked in the media department from 2012 to 2018, told Business Insider.
“In the early days, CrossFit was seen as this novel fad that didn’t have any roots in science, largely seen as this underground, contrarian type movement,” Marquez told Business Insider. “Greg has openly stated that he likes a fight. He likes being a contrarian. He likes to push against the grain.”
“Greg has openly stated that he likes a fight. He likes being a contrarian. He likes to push against the grain.”
It’s an image the company either hasn’t been able, or hasn’t tried, to shed. In some ways, CrossFit and its leadership have embraced the potential risks of the sport as a badge of honor. Studies have linked CrossFit to a potentially dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis (a fact Glassman has previously addressed), which can damage the kidneys. Early CrossFitters poked fun at the concept with images of a cartoon character named “Uncle Rhabdo” who’s hooked up to medical equipment with his kidneys falling out. Another informal mascot of the brand was Pukey, a clownlike character paying tribute to CrossFit’s tendency to make athletes work so hard they’d vomit (meeting Pukey, in the parlance).
The company has grown into a fitness giant with a cult-like following, more than 15,000 gyms worldwide, and three main revenue streams: its affiliate gyms, its seminars, and its partnership with Reebok. CrossFit’s gyms — which, depending on how long ago they began their affiliation, pay CrossFit between $500 and $3,000 a year to license the brand name — can be found everywhere from Greenland (CrossFit Inua) and Novosibirsk, Siberia (CrossFit Husky), to the South Pacific island of Vanuatu (CrossFit FMTG).
In order to call itself a CrossFit gym, at least one trainer must have completed the basic CrossFit “Level 1” training program. The course costs about $1,000 to complete. According to the CrossFit LinkedIn page, there are approximately 95,000 Level 1 certified trainers worldwide.
CrossFit’s 10-year partnership with Reebok, which launched in 2011, is one of several partnerships between CrossFit and major athletic brands. The deal is rumored to be valued at $100 million.
The CrossFit spokesperson told Business Insider he could not confirm the total value of the deal, but that Glassman had indicated to Reebok that he wasn’t interested in renewing the partnership prior to recent events. Reebok did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
At the head of this sprawling network was, until very recently, Glassman. Despite stepping down as CEO, he remains the sole owner of CrossFit, the company confirmed to Business Insider.
Jenai told Business Insider that as the company gained money and power, the man she married began to change. The couple began the process of divorce in March 2010, and in 2012, Glassman officially bought out Jenai’s shares and became 100% owner of CrossFit.
“Greg can be very narcissistic — if things aren’t going his way, he can be vile,” Jenai said. “And a day later, he can be happy-go-lucky and light-hearted. He’ll get loud and use aggressive language and threatening language.”
‘Get paid to work out and travel and hang out’
To many former HQ employees, Glassman was an enigma. Most of them rarely saw him in the office or interacted with him personally, yet they describe him as a personable, charismatic, and revolutionary figure who was always fighting battles.
In conversations with Business Insider, former employees described the company’s main office in Scotts Valley, California, as having a laid-back vibe. Staffers said they brought their dogs to work, cruised around the office on scooters and skateboards provided by the company, and worked out together in the gym downstairs. There was a keg in the office and some employees would take “birthday shots” together.
“It was just very relaxed; with the gym there, it felt like a mini home-away-from-home,” Marquez said.
A former director who worked at HQ told Business Insider that the compensation for employees was well above expected market rates. “I was paid really well and a lot of us didn’t do a lot of work,” the former director said. “It was a cake walk, you get paid to work out and travel and hang out.”
And so were the perks: Anyone who worked at HQ had clout among athletes, fans, and gym owners, and would often be treated to things like free gym access or invitations to events. One day, Glassman handed out iPads to whichever staffers happened to be at the office that day, according to Heber Cannon, a video producer at CrossFit HQ from 2010 to 2018, when he was laid off along with the majority of the media department.
“If you were part of Greg’s entourage, it was like celebrity status in the CrossFit community,” the former director said.
After a seminar, Glassman would often treat the affiliate gym owners and staff and seminar staff — typically between 15 and 75 people — to a fancy dinner with unlimited food and drinks, according to one former high-ranking employee.
“If you were part of Greg’s entourage, it was like celebrity status in the CrossFit community,” the former director said.
A history of verbal retaliation
Yet underneath the easygoing veneer was an environment that could be toxic, according to some former employees.
One CrossFit athlete and former seminar staffer told Business Insider the culture is one where people can quickly turn on each other.
“The CrossFit culture is so cult-like in the sense that you really do feel like you have a family and a home and people who are looking out for you,” the athlete said. “But you can get exiled quickly. They will ruin your reputation. You get blacklisted.”
In one 2019 incident, a CrossFit affiliate gym owner in Kansas posted on a private Facebook group for affiliate owners expressing his disillusionment with the brand.
Glassman responded directly to the gym owner in an email that began with the phrase, “Let’s end your affiliation.” Screenshots of the email were widely shared among the affiliate community, and “let’s end your affiliation” became an inside joke in response to anyone with a complaint about the company, according to one former affiliate owner.
The CEO has been thought by some affiliations, former employees, and longtime CrossFit members to have retaliated against criticisms of his company or methodology. Incidents of backlash were dubbed “Glassassinations” by some early members of the community, but examples provided to Business Insider stretch back from 2006 up through June 2020.
Incidents of backlash were dubbed “Glassassinations” by some early members of the community.
On June 5 — one day before Glassman’s “It’s FLOYD-19” tweet — Alyssa Royse, the owner of a CrossFit affiliate gym in Seattle, got a firsthand taste of Glassman lashing out. In response to Royse saying her gym would not renew its affiliation with CrossFit over concerns about CrossFit’s silence on Floyd’s death, Glassman wrote to her that “quarantine has adversely impacted [her] mental health.”
In a scathing email Royse published on her gym’s blog — which was later obtained in full by Business Insider — Glassman went on to call Royse “delusional” and a “sh—-y person” (redaction ours) and said he was “ashamed” of her.
In a phone call with Business Insider, Royse said she was “stunned” by Glassman’s email.
“I had heard stories of responses like this — it’s a thing people talked about but I had never seen it myself,” Royse said.
A former athlete who ran a CrossFit blog in the early 2010s similarly noted that if people spoke out against anything Glassman said on the CrossFit forum, the CEO would “rip into them.”
In one infamous example from 2006, Glassman (who posted as “Coach” in the CrossFit forum) targeted Josh Hillis, a member of the community, for reportedly making disparaging comments about Glassman in another message board. Two former staff members, including Jenai, who helped run the forum and would post as “Lauren,” confirmed Glassman regularly posted as “Coach.”
“I attack the character of people for being unethical sh-tbags,” Glassman wrote in a series of posts on the official CrossFit website forum. “We have a therapy for injuries here at CrossFit called STFU. It’s your turn to take some.”
The CrossFit spokesperson declined to comment on the allegations of verbal retaliation.
Some employees paint the picture of a misogynistic workplace
Multiple former staffers claimed there was a misogynistic workplace, at the core of which was Glassman himself.
In July 2015, while sitting in his private box at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games, Glassman referred to CrossFit’s legal team — which consisted entirely of women, save for chief counsel — as his “group of hot lawyer chicks” in front of business associates from Reebok and CrossFit staffers, according to one former employee in the IT department who was in the box.
Per three former HQ staffers, the WiFi password at CrossFit’s office in Solana Beach and at Glassman’s home outside of Santa Cruz, where he sometimes hosted employees, was “wetp—y.”
“I cannot count the number of times that derogatory and specifically sexual comments were made about female staff members directly in my presence,” Andy Stumpf, a former Navy Seal and CrossFit HQ staffer from 2007 to 2014, said on his podcast, “Cleared Hot,” on June 12 about Glassman and the company.
One former female member of coaching staff described the office as having a “frat party” atmosphere of drinking.
“I felt pressured because Greg would set the tone and if you were going to ride with us, you did what he did,” she said. “Who says no to Greg? That was the world he created.”
CrossFit didn’t have a human resources department until 2013, according to a former employee in the IT department.
“The HR director began trying to impose HR rules in a company where drawing penises on everything was … commonplace,” the former IT employee told Business Insider.
The HR director, who left CrossFit in January 2020, according to LinkedIn, did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
The CrossFit spokesperson declined to comment on CrossFit’s workplace culture.
Sources claim Glassman hired women he found attractive
Eight former employees, including Andy Stumpf, who spoke to Business Insider claimed that fraternization was common at the company, both within the senior CrossFit staff member circle and between senior staff members, the rest of staff, and seminar staffers.
Multiple former staffers said Glassman had a multi-year affair with an employee that began while he was married to Jenai and continued after his marriage ended. Jenai told Business Insider that Glassman had an affair with an employee while married to her. Three former staffers, including Stumpf, also claimed that Glassman was involved in at least one other relationship with another employee.
A spokesperson for CrossFit confirmed to Business Insider that Glassman was involved in a relationship with one employee during and after his marriage, but said the company could not confirm the existence of the other relationship.
“The culture of the company was very sexualized, you had a bunch of really attractive people working together and working out together. People’s bodies are talked about all the time,
“The culture of the company was very sexualized, you had a bunch of really attractive people working together and working out together.
” Jenai said, saying that that atmosphere applied to both men and women.
As one former senior staffer put it, “You get a lot of people who are really into their bodies and they’re going to want to use them in various ways.”
On business trips, female staffers would sometimes be booked in the same hotel room or even in private houses with Glassman or other senior male staffers, according to three former staffers, including Stumpf.
“It was an open secret as to who was potentially in the sexual crosshairs for Greg,” Stumpf said on his podcast. “Whether that manifested for uncomfortable travel arrangements, for female staffers with Greg, [it was] one hotel room booked.”
Some former staffers describe a workplace in which Glassman used his authority to hire women he found attractive.
“Rumor was if you were an attractive woman to Greg and he saw interest in you, he would give you a job,” one former HQ employee told Business Insider. “That was like his thing. … If you were in his crosshairs, one of the ways he would try to manipulate is by giving you a job. ‘You wanna work for CrossFit? I have that power’ kind of situation.”
Quiana Welch, a weightlifter and former HQ staffer, said she was offered a job at CrossFit after Glassman approached her in a CrossFit gym in New York City in 2013. Welch moved to Santa Cruz for the job, but she said it wasn’t clear what her job entailed even after she started.
“I really wasn’t given a specific task to do,” she said. “Sometimes I would just ask, like, what do I need to be doing?”
After two or three months, Welch says she was laid off along with several other employees in the fall of 2013. Welch told Business Insider that she always wondered why Glassman had offered her a job.
“That’s a question I always had,” she said. “Was it maybe just because I was attractive and maybe he thought, I don’t know, maybe it was nice to have my face in there? I’m not really sure to this day.”
A new CEO for CrossFit doesn’t necessarily mean a change in company culture
While 1,400 gyms are reportedly in the process of disaffiliating, the vast majority remain under the brand’s umbrella. And several of the people Business Insider spoke to stand by the former CEO.
Gym owner and trainer Greg Amundson, who’s been involved with CrossFit since December 2001, said he continues to support the company. “As a brand, CrossFit was founded on character, heart, and merit based achievement. Twenty years after my first workout, this still holds true,” he told Business Insider via email.
In a June 15 email addressed to CrossFit Chief Financial Officer Matt Holdsworth and obtained by Business Insider, Glassman’s ex-wife and CrossFit cofounder Lauren Jenai offered to buy the company for $50 million.
Jenai said she was approached on June 11 by an investor, whom she declined to identify, offering her financial backing to purchase the company.
On Jenai’s offer to buy the company, CrossFit’s spokesperson said, “There is a collective effort here to devalue the company to buy it for far less than what it’s worth.” Jenai told Business Insider the offer was to “salvage” the company, not devalue it.
Per the company spokesperson, Dave Castro, director of the CrossFit Games and codirector of training, has taken over the top seat in the company. But even with new leadership, multiple gym owners and former staffers told Business Insider that they don’t expect CrossFit’s culture to change.
“He’s in Greg’s pocket,” one CrossFit athlete and former seminar staffer told Business Insider of Castro. “He’s going to do whatever Greg says.” The CrossFit spokesperson disputed that statement, pointing to Castro’s creation of a new affiliate representative program that he says will facilitate communication between affiliates and CrossFit, Inc.
A former affiliate gym owner, who has disaffiliated since Glassman’s tweet, pointed to the broader company culture, noting, “Things like this don’t happen in a vacuum.”
As for the tweet that set it all off? As of June 20, Glassman still hadn’t deleted it.
Editing by Lina Batarags.