Under Armor Denies Romantic Relationship Between CEO and MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle
A spokesperson for sports apparel company Under Armor denied that their CEO Kevin Plank was in a romantic relationship with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, after sources who spoke to the Wall Street Journal detailed her “unusual and problematic” relationship with the company.
“Mr. Plank and Ms. Ruhle are friends,” Under Armor’s senior vice president of communications Kelley McCormick told the paper in response to their report on Ruhle advising the company. (NBC did not comment on the Journal‘s report).
Ruhle, the host of MSNBC Live and Velshi & Ruhle and an NBC News correspondent, traveled with Plank and Under Armor staff on the CEO’s private jet, using the flight to voice her opinions about the company’s business dealings and marketing — advice staffers were apprehensive to listen to.
As for the alleged intimate relationship between the two, sources told the Journal that emails detailing Ruhle and Plank’s romance, who are both married, were reviewed by the board of the Baltimore-based company. The CEO responded to the revelation by assuring the board he spent no Under Armor funds during the course of their relationship and suggested his connection with Ruhle is just personal.
However, accounts from executives accusing Plank of going to Rhule as an unofficial advisor for the company appear to contradict the CEO’s claims.
The Journal reported Under Armor executives said Plank went to Rhule for counsel on curbing backlash to one of the brand’s flagship 2016 basketball shoes, which were being attacked on social media for their ugly design. Employees at the company were told to stop from responding to the social media criticism until after Ruhle talked about the shoe controversy during a cable news segment, which she did. (The company denied this claim and pointed to the fact that a number of media personalities were sent shoes and asked to discuss them on their respective platforms).
“To suggest that we waited to respond for a particular reporter is ridiculous,” the Under Armor flack said in response to details surrounding the 2016 “Chef Curry” shoe incident. “We wasted no time in defending our brand.”
They also said Ruhle advised the company on how to approach Donald Trump’s presidency. Plank ultimately voiced support for the then-newly elected president in early 2017.
The comments led to Plank taking substantial heat from the media and even Under Armor athletes, as the president rolled out his infamous Muslim travel ban policy shortly after the business titan threw his weight behind the administration. Later that year, Plank dropped out of a White House business coalition after months of criticism.
“The idea that Mr. Plank uniquely listens to any one individual is absurd,” McCormick added in response to the Journal.
“There are clear lines between the company and Mr. Plank’s private interests, and he is accountable to the board for this,” she added.
UPDATE: This post has been updated to note that NBC responded to media requests, but opted to not publicly comment on the Journal report.
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