Under Armour founder Kevin Plank became the second CEO to resign from President Donald J. Trump’s advisory jobs panel on Monday after the president was widely criticized for not quickly denouncing groups that marched at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Plank’s statement, issued Monday evening, made no mention of the president or the weekend events in Charlottesville, in which 19 people were injured and a woman was killed when a car plowed into counter-protesters. Another dozen or so people were injured in clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters and two state troopers were killed in a related helicopter crash.
“I am appreciative of the opportunity to have served, but have decided to step down from the council,” Plank said. “I love our country and our company and will continue to focus my efforts on inspiring every person that they can do anything through the power of sport which promotes unity, diversity and inclusion."
The statement also said that Under Armour “engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”
Plank said he joined the American Manufacturing Council in January because he believed it was important for Under Armour to “have an active seat at the table and represent our industry.”
On Monday morning, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier said he was leaving the manufacturing initiative.
“I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” said Frazier, calling on America’s leaders — including Trump — to clearly reject “expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy.”
In January, Frazier and Plank were named to the 28-member panel established by the White House to promote job growth.
Appearing Monday afternoon, Trump labeled members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who participate in violence as "criminals and thugs."
Plank too had issued a statement earlier Monday via Under Armour’s Twitter account.
“We are saddened by #Charlottesville,” Plank said in the tweet. “There is no place for racism or discrimination in this world. We choose love & unity.”
By mid-afternoon on Monday, a few hundred people had responded to Plank’s message on Twitter, many of them urging him to quit the advisory group.
“Please keep us loyal to your brand by resigning from Trump's board,” wrote one.
Another tweeter, Charles H. Bryan of Gladwin, Mich., wrote to Plank: “You're in a position to send a real message to President Trump. You should do so.”
In response to a question from the Baltimore Sun, Bryan added that each of the company CEOs who are part of the advisory panel should withdraw “as a show of solidarity” with Frazier.
The social media debate echoed one Under Armour faced in February after Plank was asked about Trump during a televised interview. Plank, who has contributed in the past both to Republican and Democratic elected officials in federal and state posts, told CNBC that having "such a pro-business president is something that's a real asset to this country."
A number of celebrity Under Armour endorsers — including basketball star Stephen Curry and ballerina Misty Copeland — released statements saying they did not agree with Plank’s assessment.
"We engage in policy, not politics," Under Armour said at the time.
Plank’s move risks alienating many Under Armour consumers, some of whom took to Twitter on Monday night to voice their displeasure with his latest decision. But many also praised the company.
Shannon Coulter, founder of the #GrabYourWallet consumer boycott movement, said on Twitter she would remove Under Armour from its list.
“Thank you to CEO Kevin Plank for taking a stand against divisiveness, racism, and hate,” she tweeted.
Companies may find themselves in hot water when aligning themselves with a politician or brand of politics that some of their customers don’t like, said T. J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea Advertising and PR.
“When a situation arises with the current administration for example, it’s not surprising that companies may want to distance themselves from the media fray,” Brightman said. “Sometimes your companies brand and politics don’t mix simply because you’re not always going to come out on the good side. Your customers might not align themselves with a particular party affiliation and therefore that causes a conflict for the entire brand.”
Plank’s statement, which did not mention Trump, may have been an attempt to preserve the relationship, said Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.
“I think he doesn’t want to burn that bridge entirely and doesn’t want to make it about Trump per se,” Dorfman said. “I think he’s trying to walk a fine line.”
Trump was quick to rebuke Frazier on Monday, lashing out on Twitter that the pharmaceuticals company CEO will now “have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
He later took another shot at Merck, tweeting in the afternoon: “.@Merck Pharma is a leader in higher & higher drug prices while at the same time taking jobs out of the U.S. Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!”
With the barb, Trump appeared to attack an industry executive who has tried to make drug pricing somewhat more transparent by revealing his company's overall drug price changes.
Frazier is one of the few African-Americans to head a Fortune 500 company.
Others on the White House manufacturing council include top executives from Boeing, Dell Technologies, Dow Chemical and Johnson & Johnson.
Other CEOs also faced calls on social media Monday to resign. As of late Monday Intel’s CEO also resigned.
“I resigned to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in a statement on a company blog. “Politics and political agendas have sidelined the important mission of rebuilding America’s manufacturing base.”
Earlier in the day Krzanich tweeted: “There should be no hesitation in condemning hate speech or white supremacy by name.”
Dow CEO Andrew Liveris issued a statement condemning the violence in Charlottesville and saying the company “will continue to work to strengthen the social and economic fabric of the communities where it operates — including supporting policies that help create employment opportunities in manufacturing and rebuild the American workforce."
In February, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick left the advisory group and said his participation had not meant that he favored the president's policies.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, resigned from the council and two other presidential advisory groups in June after Trump vowed to exit the Paris climate agreement. Walt Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Bob Iger resigned for the same reason from the President's Strategic and Policy Forum, which Trump established to advise him on how government policy impacts economic growth and job creation.
William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said he couldn't “think of a parallel example” of any president responding like Trump did to a CEO departing an advisory council.
“Usually, certain niceties are observed to smooth over a rupture,” said Galston, who served as a domestic policy aide in the Clinton administration.
“We've learned that as president, Mr. Trump is behaving exactly as he did as a candidate,” Galston said. “He knows only one mode: When attacked, hit back harder.”
The Baltimore Sun’s Carrie Wells and the Associated Press contributed to this report.