The last time Kevin Plank took out an ad in the Baltimore Sun, it was to tout the economic viability of a city-backed $660 million investment in his planned redevelopment of Port Covington ahead of a crucial City Council vote. Now, he’s done it again to respond to a wave of backlash he received for voicing support of our new president.
This morning, the Under Armour founder and CEO bought a full-page advertisement in the newspaper, where he published his letter “to clarify to our hometown exactly the values for which Under Armour and I stand.”
Only one week prior, Plank drew hefty public reprisal from customers and a few of his company’s star endorsers after stating on CNBC, “to have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country.” Many interpreted his support for Trump as an endorsement of his policies seeking to ban travel to the United States from predominantly Muslim countries and rhetoric that has offended minorities, immigrants, women and others.
In response, customers declared they would boycott his products – though plenty of Trump supporters also said they were encouraged to buy more Under Armour gear – and endorsing athletes like Steph Curry, Dwayne Johnson and Misty Copeland distanced themselves from Plank.
Even without mentioning Trump by name in his new letter, the Under Armour CEO has also attempted to subtly distance himself from the controversial president. Among the values he ascribes to his South Baltimore-based business in his letter: “We stand firmly for equal rights”; “We believe that immigration is a source of strength, diversity and innovation for global companies based in America”; “Under Armour stands for job creation.”
The last point actually fits well with Trump’s stated agenda to bring jobs back from abroad to the United States. Plank is a member of the president’s manufacturing advisory council, which regularly meets in the White House. But in a sentence accompanying that bulleted point, he referenced the need for education, transportation and investment in “cities like Baltimore” that can aid in job creation.
Plank also staked out positions for his company to better define its position on immigration, building upon a Feb. 10 statement from the firm. “We are publicly opposing the travel ban,” he wrote, adding that if Trump does issue a new executive order to replace his travel ban that was blocked in federal court, “we will join a coalition of companies in opposition to any new actions that negatively impact our team, their families or our community.”
Under Armour is also “taking other public positions on legislation around the country in support of the interests of our teammates whenever policy conflicts with human rights,” Plank wrote.
The company’s founder touted his firm’s investments in Baltimore, including the UA House at Fayette community center in East Baltimore and Sagamore Development’s “manufacturing bootcamp” at The Foundery and the UA Lighthouse manufacturing and research facility, both located in Port Covington.
Just this week, Under Armour also pitched in $50,000 to help restore the original hours for a bus pass program for Baltimore City Public Schools students that was cut last fall.
The CEO has promised in the past to keep Under Armour based here in Baltimore. His company moved here 19 years ago. It currently has 14,000 employees spread across the world, but is planning to keep its headquarters here, specifically in a planned 500,000-square-foot building in Port Covington.
“We are always mindful of the responsibility that we have to those who choose our Brand, especially the young people who represent the bold and bright future of a diverse and inclusive America,” Plank wrote. “While we will continue to engage with government to protect our teammates, our company and our city, I can promise you that we will never compromise these values.”
This is Plank’s first step in ending a very sour couple weeks for his company. Earlier this month, Under Armour revealed that it missed its earnings target for the fourth quarter of last year, set a comparatively low growth goal for 2017 and announced the departure of its chief financial officer after just one year. City Councilman Ryan Dorsey also derided Plank as promoting “white supremacy” through his development plans, saying the Port Covington plan will largely benefit white Baltimore residents instead of black communities. City leaders admonished him, but many city residents expressed support for Dorsey’s message.
As all of this was happening, the company’s stock plunged, and credit firms downgraded their ratings for Under Armour. Reversing those changes will take time, and much more than a letter.
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