A rift has emerged at Under Armour between the company’s CEO and some of the most famous athletes it endorses, forcing the company to clarify exactly what it does and doesn’t support about controversial US president Donald Trump.
The sportswear brand issued a statement today (Feb. 10) explaining its values and the context of CEO Kevin Plank’s recent remarks on Trump. Plank was among the prominent business leaders Trump invited to join an initiative focused on reviving American manufacturing. After meeting with the president on Feb. 7, he praised Trump’s interest in building things and deemed him a “real asset for the country.” Since then, prominent Under Armour athletes have made it known publicly that they are unhappy with Plank’s remarks, which he made in a television interview.
Stephen Curry, the NBA star who has unquestionably been the brand’s most valuable public face and has a signature sneaker with the company, said he agrees with Plank’s assessment of Trump if you remove the et from “asset.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the popular actor who has a line in collaboration with Under Armour, put out a statement on social media calling Plank’s comments “divisive and lacking in perspective,” saying they created a situation in which the political opinions of the CEO overshadowed those of the company’s other stakeholders.
The same day, Misty Copeland, who rose to prominence as the American Ballet Theatre’s first black prima ballerina and has starred in commercials for Under Armour, said in a post on Instagram that she “strongly” disagrees with Plank and has spoken with him privately about the matter. She said that “the one topic I’ve never backed away from speaking openly about is the importance of diversity and inclusion. It is imperative to me that my partners and sponsors share this belief.”
In an apparent response to the pressure from its athletes, and consumers who have criticized Plank’s remarks, Under Armour said in its statement today that it has worked with past administrations as well and believes it’s important that the company be part of the dialogue around manufacturing in the US—something Under Armour wants to do more of. It also directly acknowledged its support for immigration and inclusion, saying these are not new values for the company.
“We have teammates from different religions, races, nationalities, genders and sexual orientations; different ages, life experiences and opinions,” the statement said. It added, “We are against a travel ban and believe that immigration is a source of strength, diversity and innovation for global companies based in America like Under Armour.”
Public dissent is certainly not something Under Armour wants right now. The company’s former runaway growth is now slowing. It needs its allies to be fighting for it, not against it.