This story was updated at 10:10pm EST on June 9, 2020.
One tweet was all it took. Call that a sign of the times.
Amid ongoing protests across the country over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, big corporations have felt compelled to issue statements (at the very least), make donations, and start dedicated funds for social justice.
So when CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman tweeted on Saturday calling the protests “FLOYD-19,” Reebok, which has been the exclusive apparel sponsor of the CrossFit Games since 2011, ended its sponsorship early. And three days after the tweet, Glassman stepped down as CEO of the company he cofounded.
Reebok, which is owned by Adidas Group, said in a statement to Footwear News: “Our partnership with CrossFit HQ comes to an end later this year. Recently, we have been in discussions regarding a new agreement, however, in light of recent events, we have made the decision to end our partnership with CrossFit HQ. We will fulfill our remaining contractual obligations in 2020. We owe this to the CrossFit Games competitors, fans and the community.”
The statement suggests Reebok was considering re-upping its CrossFit contract before Glassman’s tweet.
Glassman’s tweet was a response to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which tweeted, “Racism and discrimination are critical public health issues.” Glassman replied with an apparent joke combining Floyd’s death with coronavirus: “It’s FLOYD-19.”
A number of CrossFit athletes condemned the tweet as well.
Rich Froning, a four-time winner of the CrossFit Games, posted on Instagram that Glassman’s tweet “has made it impossible to stay loyal to leadership who make callous statements that alienate and divide in a time when unity is needed... While I’m considering what our next steps are we cannot and will not stand with these comments or beliefs.”
Tia-Clair Toomey, a three-time CrossFit Games winner, posted on Instagram that she was “incredibly saddened, disappointed and frustrated with the actions and words of Crossfit HQ and in particular Greg Glassman. I’m deeply apologetic from the bottom of my heart to all the people who have had to witness this ignorance and the pain it causes. A lack of acknowledgement and empathy for those who are fighting for basic human rights and equality is simply inexcusable and it’s behaviour that we cannot stand for... My future with Crossfit is unclear and depends on the direction of HQ.”
On Sunday night, Glassman apologized for his tweet, but defended it as “not racist.” In a thread, he said, in part: “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. Floyd is a hero in the black community and not just a victim. I should have been sensitive to that and wasn't. I apologize for that."
On Tuesday afternoon, Glassman resigned as CrossFit CEO. In a statement, he said: “I'm stepping down as CEO of CrossFit, Inc., and I have decided to retire. On Saturday I created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members.”
The swiftness of the backlash to Glassman’s tweet is yet another example of the sweeping social change that the past two weeks in America has wrought on big businesses and brands, which are learning that they can no longer remaining silent on race and social justice.
That change has been particularly evident in the sports world: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, after pressure from NFL players, said in a video on Friday, “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”
Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and focuses on sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.