Misty Copeland wrote a sternly-worded statement opposing Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank after he revealed himself to be a Trump supporter. She’s one of the many celebs who’ll have to wrestle with how to handle brands and executives who openly back the human equivalent of all the tiny teeth that exist under celebrity veneers.
Copeland, one of the many athletes who’ve released an Under Armour collection, posted a statement on Thursday to Instagram, where she criticized Plank for championing Trump. “I strongly disagree with Kevin Plank’s recent comments in support of Trump as recently reported,” Copeland writes. “Those of you who have supported and followed my career know 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 a CNBC interview earlier this week, Plank called Trump’s business acumen an “asset for the country” and said, “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.” Afterward, Under Armour issued a statement clarifying their belief in “an inclusive immigration policy” and stated, “We engage in policy, not politics.”
Copeland did not go as far as to break her endorsement with the brand. Referring to herself as a role model, she stated on Instagram that she spoke to Plank about his support and added, “it is important to me that he, and UA, take public action to clearly communicate and reflect our common values in order for us to effectively continue to work towards our shared goal of trying to motivate ALL people to be their best selves.”
Madeleine Davies tackled this issue from the consumer’s perspective—of how to handle brands that support or collude with Trump—in a smart piece about the moral conundrum of using Uber and Lyft. Celebrities will also find themselves making tough decisions about where to place allegiance and how to use their influence. Many of them will be in bed with the very people whose wealth will fuel Trump’s most damaging policies.
Prior to Copeland, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Steph Curry were among the famous Under Armour spokespersons who publicly disassociated with Plank for his comments but remain on board as endorsers. Johnson’s statement reads in part: “I feel an obligation to stand with this diverse team, the American and global workers, who are the beating heart and soul of Under Armour and the reason I chose to partner with them.” He also wrote that Plank’s comments were “divisive and lacking in perspective, inadvertently creating a situation where the personal political opinions of Under Armour’s partners and its employees were overshadowed by the comments of its CEO.”
Whoever wrote that is good with words. Johnson’s approach is the most strategic way for a famous person to express political disapproval without alienating fans or losing money, though surely all of it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. The least one could do is genuinely speak up. (For somewhat of a comparison, when our Univision executives had an off-the-record meeting with Trump in January, GMG’s union released a collective statement strongly opposing the move. Obviously, dealing with a CEO who full-on supports Trump is different).
As we keep in mind that brands are not our friends, celebrities with major endorsements and personas, like us, will have to recognize when a company’s distasteful actions are too much to handle and when to break loyalty with brands whose leaders are dicks. Should they petition to have CEOs removed? Should they say anything? Many celebrities will be cowards and do nothing. And sometimes, doing something won’t be much of a hard decision—Tyra Banks and Jessica Alba broke ties with Celebrity Apprentice, which they don’t really need anyway. When it’s an easy choice like that, they should go ahead and take their business elsewhere.
For people like The Rock and Copeland, a public statement is a reasonable first response. But if Plank goes further and makes deals with the devil, it’s time to break. Once again, I’m glad I’m not a publicist.