Did Under Armour CEO’s Statements Divide The House?

There has always been a strong connection between sports and fitness.  Almost as common is the connection between politics and sports.  Often in the shadows, it is always there.  When the three collide and become intertwined it can be more than a bit confusing.  Lines can be drawn, sides can be chosen, and stances proclaimed.  In an effort to let others know who we are, or what we feel, maybe the best we can really hope for is to gain a better view of ourselves.

Kevin Plank, the dynamic founder and CEO of Under Armour recently made a supportive statement about President Donald Trump.  Speaking as the business leader of the third largest sports apparel company in the world, Plank stated that, “To have such a pro-business President is something that is a real asset for the country. People can really grab that opportunity.”  Plank also stated, “I’m a big fan of people that operate in the world of publish and iterate versus think, think, think, think, think.  So there’s a lot that I respect there.”  Plank was at the time speaking on CNBC’s show Fast Money.

Kevin Plank and his company have done a lot of innovative things.  Under Armour is one of the most popular brands of athletes and their clothing is very performance based.  According to Plank you can ask of any UA product, “What does it do?”  After his comments, much of the world was asking that question of Plank himself – what did you just do?

There was an almost immediate backlash directed at Plank and Under Armour.  The company’s stock was even effected.  Longtime UA users tweeted about never wearing their clothing again if he could be in support of such a “mysogonistic,  homophobic, racist, etc, etc.” as the new US President.  Some parents stated that their children would no longer be wearing the UA logo.  UA sponsored athletes Steph Curry – reigning NBA MVP, Ballerina Misty Copeland, and even Mr. Everything Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson all published statements denouncing Plank’s comments of support.  The popular brand was fast becoming tainted in some eyes.

Under Armor issued a statement to clarify the company’s position:

“At Under Armour, our culture has always been about optimism, teamwork, and unity. We have engaged with both the prior and the current administrations in advocating on business issues that we believe are in the best interests of our consumers, teammates, and shareholders. Kevin Plank was recently invited at the request of the President of the United States, to join the American Manufacturing Council as part of a distinguished group of business leaders. He joined CEOs from companies such as Dow Chemical, Dell, Ford, GE and Tesla, among others to begin an important dialogue around creating jobs in America. We believe it is important for Under Armour to be a part of that discussion.

We have always been committed to developing innovative ways to support and invest in American jobs and manufacturing. For years, Under Armour has had a long-term strategy for domestic manufacturing and we recently launched our first women’s collection made in our hometown of Baltimore, MD. We are incredibly proud of this important first step in the evolution of creating more jobs at home.

We engage in policy, not politics. We believe in advocating for fair trade, an inclusive immigration policy that welcomes the best and the brightest and those seeking opportunity in the great tradition of our country, and tax reform that drives hiring to help create new jobs globally, across America and in Baltimore.

We have teammates from different religions, races, nationalities, genders and sexual orientations; different ages, life experiences and opinions. This is the core of our company. At Under Armour, our diversity is our strength, and we will continue to advocate for policies that Protect Our House, our business, our team, and our community.

These are not new or revised values. This is what we believe. Under Armour and Kevin Plank are for job creation and American manufacturing capability. We believe building should be focused on much needed education, transportation, technology and urban infrastructure investment. 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.”

Indeed, the company’s policies and actions and the actions of Kevin Plank throughout company’s history since it was founded in 1995 back up their claims of diversity and community.  They have been nothing if not inclusive in their advertising campaigns, marketing approaches, community involvement, sponsorships, and global outreach. Kevin Plank’s comments could easily be attributed to context and circumstance as much as anything else.

But there is a bigger picture at stake.  That picture was made clear not only be the people who sought to demonize the brand for Plank’s comments, but also from the statements of support from some of President Trump’s supporters.  People who admittedly had never worn Under Armour we now saying that they would buy and wears UA products in support of Plank and Trump.  Some people were attempting to associate a fitness clothing brand with a political party or ideology!

Plank’s statements notwithstanding, the entire company of Under Armour is not pro or anti President Trump. And supporting one aspect of a person in a particular context does not mean unconditional support of all aspects of that person.  Wearing Under Armour does not make you Pro- Trump.  Choosing to wear the UA or any label should probably be determined by a lot of factors other than perceived politics.  Too often we are judged by race, gender, age, religious beliefs, orientation, etc.  We already have a problem with fans of rival sports teams insulting and assaulting each other at sporting events.  How potentially dangerous would it be judge someone by what logo they did or did not wear?   Even more dangerous would be altering our behavior towards them based on who we believed them to be, and what we believed them to stand for because of said logo.  Less we forget, it is not a crime for someone to have an opinion different than our own?

To be honest, I have strong feelings against Donald Trump.  His politics notwithstanding, the things he’s said and done (by his own admission) and the way he conducts himself were deal breakers for me to ever consider voting for him.  He’s political actions since winning the presidency have not gained him any favorable ground in my mind.  But I cannot extend my views of him to anyone and everyone who voted for him or support him.  I will gauge them individually and respect their right to have an opinion, recognizing that the set of things that matter most to me may be different than the set of things that matter most to others.  Yes, some of his supporters will share his most extreme view points that many find unacceptable, but not all of them.  It would be dangerously unfair to assume or attribute a set of beliefs to any group based on knowing limited information about them.  I think that is called “pre-judging” as in “prejudice” and there is enough prejudice already in the world.  So, despite the comments of a company CEO, the company itself, with all its diverse members and customers, deserves the right to not be judged by their CEO having the freedom to voice a differing viewpoint than what others might have.


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