A high-ranking executive with the CrossFit organization was fired Wednesday just hours after he called it a “sin” to celebrate LGBT pride.
Russell Berger, chief knowledge officer and unofficial spokesman for the company who also serves as a pastor at an Alabama church, made his comment in reaction to news that a CrossFit gym in Indianapolis announced it would be shutting its doors for good after the pushback it received for canceling a workout in honor of Pride Month. Many of the gym’s employees quit in protest.
In announcing his decision to cancel the pride workout, Brandon Lowe — owner of the Indianapolis facility — did not make reference to the LGBT community.
“Our underlying goal for the staff and members … is total health and well-being for the individual and community,” Lowe wrote. “Total health involves the body, the emotions, relationships, and the spirit. At the foundational detractor from health, as we believe God sets the parameters for, is pride. We believe that true health forever can only be found within humility, not pride. Humility is seeing oneself as they truly are, and as God truly defines them to be. As a business we will choose to deploy our resources towards those efforts and causes that line up with our own values and beliefs.”
Berger said in a tweet that he supported the owners of the gym for “standing by their convictions” but also criticized the LGBT community for its response.
“As someone who personally believes celebrating ‘pride’ is a sin, I’d like to personally encourage #CrossFitInfiltrate for standing by their convictions and refusing to host an @indypride workout,” Berger said in a since-deleted tweet. “The intolerance of the LGBTQ ideology toward any alternative views is mind-blowing.”
When a Twitter user criticized Berger for his comment, he praised CrossFit and its employees for being “tolerant” of disagreement on LGBT issues.
“The tactics of some in the LGBTQ movement toward dissent is an existential threat to freedom of expression,” Berger wrote. “Thankfully I work for a company that tolerates disagreement. I have homosexual coworkers who I love and respect, and as far as I am aware, they aren’t demanding I be punished for my views.”
But CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman told BuzzFeed News that he did not stand by the “appalling” views of Berger, who Glassman referred to as a “zealot.” Initially, Berger was placed on administrative leave.
“He needs to take a big dose of ‘shut the f— up’ and hide out for awhile. It’s sad,” Glassman said in an interview. “We do so much good work with such pure hearts — to have some zealot in his off-time do something this stupid, we’re all upset. The whole company is upset. This changes his standing with us. What that looks like, I don’t know. It’s so unfortunate.”
Later in the day, the company said via a statement that Berger had been fired.
“The statements made today by Russell Berger do not reflect the views of CrossFit Inc.,” the company said. “For this reason, his employment with CrossFit has been terminated.”
CrossFit has more than 13,000 affiliate gyms in over 120 countries worldwide. Pride Month workouts are scheduled to take place in hundreds of facilities in June.
Berger told BuzzFeed News he regretted that his comments reflected negatively on CrossFit, but he stands by his defense of the Indiana facility.
“I have no qualms with the gym owner expressing his personal convictions, I have no qualms with customers and coaches leaving because they have different convictions,” he said. “But I did have qualms with the massive response from people who had no direct business relationship with the affiliate, but just engaged in social media–organized public destruction of his business’ reputation and forced him to shut his doors.
“I think that’s an expression of pure intolerance, not being able to disagree with someone and engage in meaningful discourse. I should have realized that, and I didn’t until it was too late.”
But, he added, he stands by his original sentiment. “My actual point I was making, I still affirm it,” Berger said.
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