When then-Under Armour (UA) CEO Kevin Plank praised President Donald Trump three years ago, ballet star Misty Copeland — one of the brand’s most recognizable endorsers — said on Instagram she “strongly” disagreed with the remarks.
In a new interview, Copeland told Yahoo Finance the decision reflected a “hard balance” between retaining ties with the company while ensuring that observers did not perceive her as endorsing Plank’s views, and shed light on the difficult choices that face celebrity endorsers in the Trump era.
“I wanted to make it clear coming from me as a Black athlete, that was an ambassador, an athlete for Under Armour,” she says. “That I don't have those same beliefs as our president.”
“Separating it in that way rather than just putting down Kevin Plank or saying that we can't co-exist because we have different ideas,” she adds. “It was a very difficult and unusual position to be in.”
Controversy has erupted on multiple occasions throughout the presidency of Donald Trump, when business leaders have expressed support for him or his policies. Most recently, just last month, a boycott of bean company Goya spread across social media after the company’s chief executive Robert Unanu praised Trump at a joint press conference.
Plank, who founded Under Armour, stepped down as CEO in January. The company faces stiff competition from other apparel companies like Nike (NIKE), which holds an endorsement deal with Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who became a Civil Rights figure after kneeling during the national anthem.
Under Amour issued a statement of solidarity after the death of George Floyd and last month launched a new diversity initiative, pledging to hire more Black workers and offer them opportunities for career advancement.
“I'm very cognizant of all of the brands that I'm a part of,” Copeland says. “It has to really align with who I am and if I'm walking the walk, I need to talk the talk.”
“If I'm attached to a brand, it's not going to just to be seen, it's not going to be because I want to make money. It's going to be because I think it will make a difference,” she says. “If I think it will bring value to more people.”
Copeland’s affiliation with Under Armour gained wide attention in 2014, when the company’s commercial featuring Copeland went viral, garnering four million views in one week. Three years later, when Plank lauded Trump, Copeland and fellow Under Armour endorser Stephen Curry, a star point guard for the Golden State Warriors, spoke out against the comments.
Copeland spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Copeland said she carefully weighs when to speak out on political issues, taking into account her interest in a given subject and the potential for her to bring about change.
“I’m not just kind of putting my two cents into everything that comes out there that's political,” she says. “But [what] really I think I could have a true impact on and that really makes sense for me and means something to me.”