Russell Berger is the high-ranking CrossFit employee has been fired after he sent out tweets in support of a franchise’s perceived homophobic policy. Berger announced on his Twitter account that he had been fired by the gym juggernaut on June 6. A few hours earlier, Berger’s tweets were exposed in a Buzzfeed report.
The saga began when the owners of a CrossFit gym in Indiana known as CrossFit Infiltrate cancelled a pride-related event. The event had been organized by coaches at the gym, reports Fox Indianapolis. The cancellation of the event was seen as homophobic with the Fox affiliate reporting that gym is closing due to a large number of people who have ended their memberships.
In a statement, the owners of Crossfit Infiltrate were far from apologetic, “The unfortunate line that is being read about the gym grossly misrepresents what CrossFit Infiltrate stands for and what it believes. The majority of the reviews and statements being read about the gym largely point out that Infiltrate’s community has been incredible and welcoming and that the decision not to host an Indy Pride event is the reason we are called bigots or discriminative. However, let the history of the gym speak for itself and for the position we take in this divisive atmosphere, CrossFit Infiltrate welcomes, serves, and prioritizes training people to be fit and functional in body, mind, and spirit. It never has and never will be anything but welcoming to all human beings who live, move, and breathe in God’s world.”
Then Russell Berger got involved.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Berger Tweeted That He Believes Celebrating ‘Pride Is a Sin’
In one of Berger’s first tweets on the subject, via Deadspin, he wrote, “The tactics of some in the LGBTQ movement toward dissent is an existential threat to freedom of expression. The lack of tolerance for disagreement, which has been replaced with bullying Twitter mobs promising “consequences,” should be a concern regardless of your political stance.
Berger continued, “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. The intolerance of the LGBTQ ideology toward any alternative views is mindblowing.”
Berger went on, “Allow me to double-down. I believe @indypride is a celebration sin, as do most Christians. I deleted this and reposted a different version to make sure it’s clear these are my personal beliefs, you know, since the Twitter mobs are hard at work trying to get me fired.”
CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman announced shortly after these tweets that Berger had been placed on unpaid leave until he was ultimately fired. In a tweet, Glassman said, “I am crazy proud of the gay community in CrossFit.” In an interview with Buzzfeed, Glassman said of Berger, “He needs to take a big dose of ‘shut the fuck up’ and hide out for awhile. It’s sad.”
2. Berger Calls Himself a Trainer at CrossFit on His LinkedIn Page
According to his LinkedIn page, Berger lists himself as a CrossFit trainer in Huntsville, Alabama. In a statement to Deadspin, CrossFit said that Berger is not and was never the company’s Chief Knowledge Officer but was a “legal researcher.” Berger is a graduate of Druid Hills High School in Atlanta, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia and the Reformed Theological Seminary of Jackson, Mississippi. Berger was formerly a U.S. Army Ranger.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Berger said that in addition to his CrossFit work, he is also a pastor at his local church. Berger also wrote about his issue with the gym in Indiana, “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. 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 went on to say that he regrets that it appeared as though he was speaking for CrossFit on social media when he was expressing personal opinions.
3. On His Blog, Berger Writes that He ‘Defends the Brand From Junk Science, Yellow Journalism & Invincible Ignorance
Berger has maintained a blog, The Russells, along with Russell Greene. Berger said that he “defends the brand from junk science, yellow journalism and invincible ignorance.” Most recently, in May 2018, Berger wrote a blog that criticized a British Medical Journal report about the dangers of CrossFit. Berger wrote, “It seems that while America is exporting CrossFit to the world, yellow journalism is following closely behind it.”
In addition, Berger regularly tweets on evangelical issues as well as railing against anybody who criticizes CrossFit. Berger wrote an article for the Huffington Post in 2013 titled, “In Defense of CrossFit.”
4. Berger Once Said that CrossFit Was More Like ‘a Course in Libertarianism’ than a Fitness Course
A 2013 article in the Washington Examiner on the libertarian politics within CrossFit quoted Berger as saying in 2008, “Strong conviction to the tenets of individualism and responsibility make CrossFit look less like a fitness program and more like a course in Libertarianism.”
During the furore over the CrossFit Infiltrate gym, Berger was defended by conservative pundie Erick Erickson who wrote on Twitter, “Only days after Masterpiece, gay activists are seeking the ruination of a man for (correctly) calling the celebration of gay pride a sin on his personal social media profile. … Also, I went to seminary with this guy. He’s a good guy.”
5. Berger’s Wife Is Fighting EDS & POTS
Berger became engaged to his wife Katherine in 2006. Katherine Berger writes heroically in her blog, Songs of Ascent, about her battle with both POTS, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia and EDS, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. In one particularly brave blog, Katherine Berger writes about the day she was diagnosed with POTS saying:
I was diagnosed with two forms of Dysautonomia: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia (POTS) and neurogenic syncope in 2013, after several fainting episodes. I had begun to feel tired and light-headed and when I was vacuuming one day, I suddenly woke up on the floor…
Basically, there are some very fancy and efficient ways to be diagnosed with an Autonomic Function Disorder, which the umbrella Dysautonomia falls under.
The reason many people with EDS have POTS and issues with hypotension or low blood pressure is because our vascular system is made of collagen and since people with EDS have faulty collagen, our vascular system does not work very well.
Katherine Berger is a graduate of Huntsville High School and the University of Alabama-Huntsville.