Several Under Armour endorsers — including the high-profile ballerina Misty Copeland and actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson — took to social media Thursday to oppose flattering comments made by the company's founder and CEO about President Donald J. Trump.
In separate statements on Thursday, Copeland, Johnson and former Baltimore Raven Torrey Smith joined Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry — the Baltimore footwear and apparel brand's top basketball ambassador — in registering their concern about remarks made by Kevin Plank.
Using the hashtag "CommittedToThePeople," Johnson, a film actor and former professional wrestler, said on Twitter and other channels that Plank's words – delivered Tuesday afternoon as part of a broad interview on CNBC's "Halftime Report" – "are neither my words nor my beliefs. His words were divisive and lacking in perspective."
Copeland called on the company to take public action to articulate its values, while Smith expressed disappointment but said he understood where Plank was coming from a businessman.
During the CNBC interview, Plank said having "such a pro-business president is something that's a real asset to this country."
Trump "wants to build things," Plank said. "He wants to make bold decisions and be decisive."
Asked for comment Thursday, Under Armour released the same 280-word statement it out the day before as it coped with the mounting reaction to Plank's comments.
"We engage in policy, not politics," said the statement, which stressed the company's desire for fair trade, tax reform and an "inclusive immigration policy that welcomes the best and the brightest and those seeking opportunity in the great tradition of our country."
The statement didn't mention Trump by name but cited Plank's involvement in the president's manufacturing jobs initiative, an issue in which Under Armour has a keen interest.
Amid the reaction to Plank's comments, Under Armour's stock has risen $1.24 a share over the past two days, closing Thursday at $21.71 each.
Professional athletes and other celebrities have raised concerns about a number of Trump statements and proposals, including his executive order to suspend refugee admissions and temporarily bar visitors from seven mostly Muslim countries.
Johnson, who agreed to a long-term partnership with Under Armour in January 2016, said he wasn't severing ties with the company.
"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," his statement said.
On Thursday — a day after Curry told the Mercury News of San Jose, Calif., that he agrees Trump is an asset "if you remove the 'et'" — he retweeted Johnson's statement.
Like Curry a day earlier, Copeland said she was concerned enough about Plank's comments to speak to him directly.
"I have spoken at length with Kevin privately about the matter," she wrote in an Instagram post. "But as someone who takes my responsibility as a role model very seriously, 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."
Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, praised the support she has received from Under Armour but said: "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."
She was featured by Under Armour in the "I Will What I Want" campaign, designed to attract women to the brand and push women's sales. She also was featured in the "Rule Yourself" campaign.
Smith, now a San Francisco 49ers wide receiver, tweeted that he was "very disappointed" at Plank's comments but said the CEO spoke from a business perspective.
"If you are a Fortune 500 company I'm sure you view Trump as an asset," tweeted Smith, who played — as Plank did — for the University of Maryland.
Another Under Armour endorser, Kent Bazemore of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, offered a supportive perspective on the president.
"Have a businessman in office, because that's the way the world's trending," Bazemore told Sporting News. "Even in the NBA, there's more business and entrepreneurship in athletics these days. And I'm living proof you take care of your brand, good things happen to you."
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Some on social media — but not the Under Armour athletes — have called for a boycott of company products. Such efforts are often short-lived, said Auburn Bell, an adjunct professor of marketing at Loyola University Maryland.
"That said, the game changes if one of them actually breaks the relationship," Bell said of the firm's endorsers.
Even then, he said, the damage is minimal and short-term.
"The only thing that would take this to a different level is if there is mass defection among the ambassadors, which isn't likely to happen," Bell said.
For brands such as Under Armour, partnering with athletes is "a balance between risk and reward," said T.J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Bel Air and Sonoma, Calif.
Companies and their endorsers share risk by association when they sign these agreements because neither side can control what the other side does, Brightman said.
"For the very same reasons companies like UA want specific professional athletes to endorse their brands, there is also the risk that — just as Kevin Plank shared his commentary — that those same athletes who disagree speak out with their displeasure," he said.