After Under Armour’s C.E.O., Kevin Plank, described Mr. Trump’s pro-business approach as “a real asset” to the country, Mr. Curry told The San Jose Mercury News, “I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et.’” He later said he would not be afraid to leave any company “if it wasn’t in line with who I am.”
The reaction was forceful — in support of Mr. Curry. Other Under Armour endorsers, like the movie star Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, and the ballerina Misty Copeland, released their own critical statements aimed at Mr. Plank. One analyst downgraded Under Armour’s stock price target, to $14 from $24 per share. And on Feb. 15, Mr. Plank took out a full-page ad in The Baltimore Sun saying, in part, that his comments “did not accurately reflect my intent.”
An Under Armour spokeswoman said that Mr. Plank had since spoken to Mr. Curry, Mr. Johnson and Ms. Copeland and “they all understand the context in which those comments were made.”
Mr. Steinberg — who is perhaps best known as being the inspiration for Tom Cruise’s sports agent character in “Jerry Maguire” — was stunned at how it all unfolded.
“In days past, what would Under Armour have done?” Mr. Steinberg said. “They would have cut Steph Curry.”
The fact that Under Armour did not cut Mr. Curry, and instead reached out to him in a conciliatory manner after his comments, was, to Mr. Steinberg, a sign of a transformative shift in the endorser-endorsee dynamic.
“Seriously, an athlete calling out the C.E.O. of the company?” Mr. Steinberg said. “It’s remarkable.”
It is fair to wonder how much Mr. Curry had to lose by speaking out. As one of the most talented and popular players in the N.B.A. — with the top-selling jersey in the league and a salary of $11 million — he would appear to be fine financially. But so, too, were those celebrities, like Mr. Jordan, who typically declined to weigh in on contentious topics.
By taking a political stand, particularly in today’s divisive climate, Mr. Curry is potentially alienating the millions of people who support Mr. Trump, many of whom might no longer want to wear or buy his apparel.
“You are making a strategic decision that, ‘hey, I accept the wrath that might come from these 65 million people who I’m now speaking out against,’” said Americus Reed, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania. “I’m not sure that courage is the right word, but it’s a decision that bears costs.”
Those costs, said Harry Edwards, the sociologist and civil rights activist who helped to inspire the raised-fist protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Summer Olympics, were overstated in the past and are understated today.
“For years, people said athletes are making so much money they have so much to risk that they won’t speak out. Today they’re saying they’re making so much money they can afford to speak out,” Mr. Edwards said. “The reality is that both are equally wrong.”
The influence of endorsers, particularly athletes, has changed in recent years. Joe Favorito, a longtime communications strategist in sports and entertainment, said Mr. Curry wore the Under Armour logo on a televised stage every night and, through social media, had an enormous platform to reach consumers on a whim. This creates more of a necessity to pair endorsers with companies that match their personalities.
“You have athletes who are more in control of their brand than ever before,” Mr. Favorito said. “They’re not just signing on to take a check. They’re signing because everything about their personal brand is aligned with the brand they’re working with.”
In some cases, the personal brand’s allure has grown stronger than the company’s. In the past, endorsement contracts were often drafted with language that penalized the endorser for “making comments or taking positions that were controversial and potentially incur negative reaction,” Mr. Steinberg said.
Today, however, he might approach a new endorsement deal — particularly with a high-profile client — a little differently.
“There needs to be a discussion going in about the nature of the athlete’s views or what his actions might be, and the nature of what the executive’s actions might be, and where that might conflict,” Mr. Steinberg said.
As more endorsers relinquish their political neutrality, companies may have to decide if signing a celebrity like Mr. Curry is ultimately worth it if they don’t see eye to eye on matters beyond the color of the sneaker.
“He is not biting the hand that feeds him. The hand that he’s feeding bit him,” Mr. Edwards said, “We always had that a little bit backwards, but now it is clear whom is feeding whom.”
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