A high-ranking CrossFit employee was fired after tweeting his support for a CrossFit gym’s cancellation of a Pride event, citing his belief that celebrating LGBT pride is a “sin.”
Russell Berger was the mega-successful fitness company’s chief knowledge officer, often de facto spokesperson, and a co-author of the Russells, a blog about scientific misconduct that he maintained with colleague Russell Greene.
But Berger got into hot water Wednesday afternoon when he tweeted about a CrossFit gym in Indianapolis, Indiana, where owners canceled a workout in honor of Pride Month. Many of the coaches and employees quit in protest, according to WTTV TV in Indianapolis. On Wednesday, the gym posted notices that it was shutting down.
"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 wrote. “The intolerance of the LGBTQ ideology toward any alternative views is mind-blowing.”
At first, Berger was placed on an unpaid leave of absence. But later on Wednesday, CrossFit announced on Twitter that he 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."
Berger had also said, “The tactics of some in the LGBTQ movement toward dissent is an existential threat to freedom of expression." In response to a Twitter user who pushed back, he 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.”
He then deleted those tweets and others after people in the CrossFit community and elsewhere condemned his remarks and called for him to be fired.
But conservative commentator Erick Erickson stepped in to defend Berger and personally vouch for him.
Shortly before Berger was placed on leave, CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman told BuzzFeed News that he did not stand by Berger’s views, which he called “appalling.” CrossFit’s official Twitter account also quoted him as saying, “I am crazy proud of the gay community in CrossFit.”
“He needs to take a big dose of ‘shut the fuck 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.”
Berger, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, is a CrossFit trainer who opened up an early CrossFit affiliate. He holds "orthodox, historic Christian beliefs" and is a pastor at a local church, he told BuzzFeed News.
His anger over the Indianapolis situation arose after reading news reports about it. “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.”
Berger says he often tweets about CrossFit as an employee and public representative of the company, as well as religious issues “as a social media user and the pastor of a church.” So his tweets are “nothing I haven’t said before on social media.”
But the two subjects don’t usually come together as they did in this case. “It became way too difficult to discern between me making statements of personal opinion, and me speaking as a voice for CrossFit,” he said.
He said that he should have anticipated that his comments would be interpreted as him speaking on behalf of CrossFit. “I should have realized that, and I didn’t until it was too late,” he said. “I do regret it.”
But, he added, he stands by his original sentiment: “My actual point I was making, I still affirm it.”
This post has been updated to reflect that Russell Berger has been fired from CrossFit.
This post has been updated to include remarks from Erick Erickson.
Stephanie M. Lee is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Stephanie M. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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