Turns out Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is Trumpier than we thought. Last year, he came under fire for praising the president’s business stance, and this year, we find out he’s also a fan of strippers (shout-out to Stormy!).
Mr. Plank and other executives attended strip clubs after various events with athletes and colleagues over a span of years, according to The Wall Street Journal, which published an article earlier this week claiming that Under Armour employees were notified via email in February that they were no longer allowed to expense such adult entertainment. (Note to other businesses still operating in the stone ages: Don’t leave a text trail when you kill bad policies if you don’t want them to end up in the press.)
But even more troubling: Mr. Plank’s company managers also used young female employees as bait for executives at pre-Preakness parties held at Mr. Plank’s horse farm, The Journal said, inviting women “based on their attractiveness to appeal to male guests” in a practice charmingly referred to as “stocking the pond.”
Welcome to 2018, folks.
Analysts expect this news, like 2017’s pro-Trump pronouncement, to hurt the company’s brand long term, and Mr. Plank has pledged to “embrace this moment to accelerate the ongoing meaningful cultural transformation that is already underway at Under Armour.”
Apparently this man needs to learn all of his lessons the hard way.
You’d think the incident in 2012, when The Journal says Mr. Plank’s brother Scott left the company under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations, would have been a wake up call to sensitivity.
And where exactly lap dancers fit in with Under Armour’s plans to remake itself from a men’s brand into a family brand, with women’s lines targeted as particular areas for growth, is unclear. Executives presumably weren’t entertaining all of the company’s athlete partners at Baltimore’s Scores, which sits in the shadows of a jail and homeless services center and is soon to be known as the “Penthouse Club.” I have a hard time envisioning, say, principal ballerina Misty Copeland (who expressed concern following Mr. Plank’s Trump remarks, as did many others, including consumers), or Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, grabbing a bite at at the Dog House before enjoying a striptease.
Of course it could be argued that the strippers are a kind of athlete; that pole doesn’t work itself, after all. But they don’t have much need for athletic wear, unless maybe the company plans to branch into thongs.
And while I’ll concede that it’s not exactly shocking for athletes to frequent nudie bars, in this day and age a smart business person should know better than to join in. It sends a clear message to female employees and customers that it’s A-OK to objectify women — whether on the clock or not.
Under Armour spokeswoman Kelley McCormick told The Journal that Mr. Plank himself didn’t conduct business at strip clubs or use company funds at them, which suggests he just went along for fun. Ms. McCormick also said last year’s Preakness eve party had a “tasteful nature,” despite the women in cutoffs dancing on bars. Uh huh.
(It’s so much more convincing when women justify behavior demeaning to women, isn’t it? I’m looking at you Sarah and Kellyanne.)
Perhaps if there were greater female representation on Under Armour’s executive team, these kinds of practices might have been nipped in the bud years ago. But the only woman in the so-called C suite — human resources chief (of course) Kerry Chandler — announced plans to leave last month, according to The Journal. And today, of the eight executives listed on its business site, not one is a woman (nor a person of color, for that matter).
It all reminds me of an op-ed we ran last year, detailing a woman’s very uncomfortable elevator ride with some drunken men who appeared to be Under Armour employees and questioning the culture at the company. Another Under Armour spokeswoman called the paper, incredibly hot under the collar, demanding proof and calling us irresponsible for running such claims. Meanwhile, her bosses were apparently stocking the pond and socializing at Scores.
Perhaps a better way to contain bad press is to cease the behavior that spurs it.
Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @triciabishop.