It has been a trying week for the relationship between U.S. President Donald Trump and the athletes that he governs over. His beloved New England Patriots won the Super Bowl, but almost immediately six members of the team announced they were planning on skipping the trip to the White House.
Then, soon after he was shown public support by the CEO of Under Armour, he was challenged by that brand’s biggest spokesperson, Stephen Curry.
The White House protest is not new in sports. Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, for one, skipped the visit to the Barack Obama White House with his teammates in 2012, saying in a statement: “I believe the federal government has grown out of control, threatening the rights, liberties and property of the people.”
But it’s Curry’s statement — and others like it — that is really worth watching. It was spurred on by Under Armour CEO Kevin Planks pro-Trump statement on Tuesday.
“To have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country,” he told CNBC.
“I agree with that description,” Curry told the Mercury News, “if you remove the ‘et’ from ‘asset.'”
The all-star guard said he raised his objections with the company after Plank praised Trump’s “pro-business” approach.
“I spent all day yesterday on the phone,” Curry explained, “with countless people at Under Armour, countless people in Kevin Plank’s camp, my team, trying to understand what was going on and where everybody stood on the issue.
“If I can say the leadership is not in line with my core values, then there is no amount of money, there is no platform I wouldn’t jump off,” Curry said.
Curry was not alone. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, another Under Armour rep, eloquently expressed his dissatisfaction via Facebook while sticking with the company if not the CEO.
Under-Armour sponsored ballerina Misty Copeland took to Instagram to voice her displeasure, and she was even more critical. No coincidence she’s not wearing an Under Armour logo in the accompanying photo.
It’s all bad PR for Under Armour, which has had a poor start to 2017 based on stock projections.
Now customers are threatening to boycott.
With Carey Price, Bryce Harper, Cam Newton and Jordan Spieth also on staff, Under Armour has become the home of the MVP. But nobody has done more to change the perception of the brand than Curry.
And to date, the Golden State Warriors guard has been the Derek Jeter of basketball. Rarely does he say anything close to controversial. In fact, he was criticized with how careful his wording was when asked about the All-Star Game moving from his hometown of Charlotte due to the HB2 “bathroom bill” law.
He later expanded on those words, even if only slightly.
So what’s getting him to speak up now? Perhaps it has something to do with boldness in numbers.
Curry’s coach, Steve Kerr, is already on record speaking out against Trump’s travel ban.
We once lived in a time where being political was a risk for your brand or reputation. Now the opposite seems to be true. Leagues and players are being forced to pick sides in an ever-divisive climate lest they have a side chosen for them. And staying mum — like Tom Brady tried to do during Super Bowl week — is no longer an option.
What we are learning is there is no difference anymore between personal policy or politics, directly or by association.
It is ironic the athlete militia that is forming against Trump is being borne out of his own ideology. Part of the criticism of Trump’s early policy is that he paints with a broad brush and finds groups of people guilty by association. That way of thinking has athletes revoking any notion that they can be linked to him.
In the new age of sports, athletes seemed to feel compelled to speak up for fear they’ll be found guilty by association if they stay quiet.