I wouldn’t want to mess with Greg Glassman, the founder and CEO of CrossFit. You might mistakenly perceive CrossFit as just a gritty gym in your neighborhood, but it’s a global network of 15,000 facilities in 160 countries, generating an estimated $100 million in revenues. Glassman is reportedly also worth that much.
CrossFit is a vigorous workout combining Olympic weightlifting, calisthenics, and intense spurts of aerobics. It has its roots as a training program for law enforcement and military veterans, but the company now boasts millions of fanatical loyalists of all ages and from all walks of life, including 20,000 doctors. In the CrossFit corner of the fitness world, “Coach” Glassman is the messiah.
Glassman, 63, doesn’t seem driven entirely by money. He could easily earn countless millions more branding a line of CrossFit supplements and other nutritional elixirs, but he feels it would harm CrossFit’s core mission. When a Silicon Valley venture capital firm tried buying his ex-wife’s 50 percent CrossFit interest, he waged a war and regained 100 percent control of the company. The venture capital firm likely could have provided funding and resources to further monetize Glassman’s holdings.
Glassman is ruthlessly determined and fearless. He has aggressively attacked Coke and Pepsi for their sugary drinks and their financing of research studies. CrossFit has filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding that the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Foundation of the National Institutes of Health disclose what the company alleges are unreported corporate funding sources.
CrossFit features on its site a New York Times article and other published reports alleging Coke and other Western food and beverage companies have unduly influenced China’s policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. China has the largest overweight population in the world. Publicly criticizing China’s government is a gutsy policy for a company that has 120 facilities in the country.
Academics, researchers, and others who criticize CrossFit do so at their own peril. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research was forced to retract a critical and highly publicized Ohio State study of CrossFit training after the company investigated the methodology and found it contained false injury statistics. The head of a fitness trade group in New Zealand recently issued a public apology admitting that his criticisms of CrossFit were unfounded.
Facebook may now be in Glassman’s crosshairs. The company last week deleted without warning or explanation a group with 1.65 million followers who advocate the Banting7DayMealPlan, a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. The group is not affiliated with CrossFit, but the company supports this sort of diet. Facebook restored the Banting group without warning or explanation, but that didn’t assuage Glassman. CrossFit issued a scathing release announcing that it will no longer support or use Facebook’s services “until further notice.”
“Facebook’s action should give any serious person reason to pause, especially those of us engaged in activities contrary to prevailing opinion.”
“Facebook’s action should give any serious person reason to pause, especially those of us engaged in activities contrary to prevailing opinion,” the company said.
“CrossFit, Inc., as a voluntary user of and contributor to this marketplace, can and must remove itself from this particular manifestation of the public square when it becomes clear that such responsibilities are betrayed or reneged upon to the detriment of our community. Common decency demands that we do so, as do our convictions regarding fitness, health, and nutrition, which sit at the heart of CrossFit’s identity and prescription.”
Until now, Facebook’s censorship activities have focused mostly on controversial right-wing activists. But there are no assurances that Facebook won’t block groups opposing the site’s biggest advertisers, whose identities the company doesn’t disclose. It’s safe to assume Coke is one of them. The company spends $3.8 billion a year on worldwide advertising and it is the third most popular brand on Facebook. Glassman has reason to be concerned that Facebook has an incentive to block his efforts calling attention to the potential harm of sugary products and other causes he advocates.
Glassman is someone the left and right can both love and hate. He’s been quoted as saying “I am crazy proud of the gay community in CrossFit,” and he fired and publicly derided an employee who opposed the company’s policy of holding Pride events.
CrossFit also published research by Dr. Jeff Glassman, CrossFit’s longtime “chief scientist” (and Greg’s father) saying the sun, not human activity, is responsible for global warming. Dr. Glassman was formerly the Division Chief Scientist for Missile Development and Microelectronics Systems Divisions for Hughes Aircraft (a.k.a. a rocket scientist). His paper runs counter to claims of media darling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has warned the world could end in 12 years if man-made global warming isn’t addressed.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is running out of friends, rather ironic given the line of business he’s in. There’s talk in Washington about breaking up his company, his former roommate and colleague says he’s sacrificed “security and civility for clicks,” he’s run afoul of regulators in Europe and the U.S., and Proctor and Gamble, a leading global advertiser, is losing its patience with social media.
Perhaps Glassman’s review will reveal that CrossFit needs Facebook. But if he concludes otherwise, continuing to attack the site would dovetail nicely with other causes he promotes. Someone worth $100 million who is passionate about taking on powerful interests and has millions of zealous followers could potentially make a lot of noise.