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Why Steph Curry probably won’t be punished for not ‘sticking to sports’

Golden State Warriors star and former Davidson Wildcat Stephen Curry is one of Under Armour’s top endorsers.
Golden State Warriors star and former Davidson Wildcat Stephen Curry is one of Under Armour’s top endorsers. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Don’t expect Under Armour to punish Steph Curry for his scathing remarks about CEO Kevin Plank’s favorable views of President Donald Trump.

Curry, the two-time NBA MVP and former Davidson College star who grew up in Charlotte, is one of Under Armour’s top endorsers. It’s likely Curry sees himself as insulated from repercussions from his sponsor, experts say, although technically he’s not immune to them.

In fact, the words from the Golden State Warriors standout might even work in his favor.

“Curry is on the Mount Rushmore of athletes that companies like Under Armour want to deal with. He gets dropped, he gets picked up by Nike or Adidas the next day. I think they understand he’s not someone they can substitute easily,” said Todd McFall, a Wake Forest sports economist.

Earlier this week, Plank called Trump an “asset” to the country in a CNBC interview. “I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et’ from ‘asset,’” Curry said in response to Plank’s comment in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News.

Plank had said his comment was just about the Republican president creating a business-friendly environment, but Curry said he wanted to make sure Under Armour wasn’t adopting Trump’s views on social issues. The president has, in recent months, angered many with his comments about women, Muslims and African-Americans.

The NBA has long been seen as a relatively progressive league that lauds social activism. In July, for instance, NBA stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul opened the ESPY Awards show with Black Lives Matter speeches. Later that month, the NBA decided to move its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte over its opposition to House Bill 2, which the league said it sees as discriminatory toward the LGBT community.

Curry also lives just outside San Francisco, one of the most liberal cities in the country, and his coach, Steve Kerr, has also been openly critical of Trump’s policies.

“In (Curry’s) sphere of the NBA, in his sphere of his team, in the sphere of the community in which he plays, this is embraced, frankly,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago sports business consultant.

To be sure, though, Curry’s comments could cause him to lose fans who are supporters of President Trump. Some retailers such as Nordstrom and Belk have recently dropped Ivanka Trump merchandise, stirring up both support and criticism from shoppers.

Under Armour signed Curry to a contract extension in 2015 that reportedly runs through 2024 and includes an equity stake in the company.

Under Armour did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Curry isn’t the only Under Armour athlete speaking out against their sponsor. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson took to Instagram Thursday to say he disagrees with Plank but will remain with Under Armour. Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theatre’s first black principal dancer, also in an Instagram post Thursday afternoon said she “strongly disagrees” with Plank’s comments on Trump, and implored an explanation.

“The one topic I’ve never backed away from speaking openly about is the importance of diversity and inclusion. It is imperative to me that my partners and sponsors share this belief,” Copeland said.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is also sponsored by Under Armour. A source from Newton’s camp told the Observer that Newton was not planning to comment right now.

Curry and Copeland’s positions reflect the relative comfort some professional athletes seem to have these days with wading into politics.

That wasn’t the case back in 1990, when former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt was seeking unseat Republican Sen. Jesse Helms and sought the support of Michael Jordan. The move prompted a polite decline and the reported “Republicans buy sneakers, too” comment from the Nike front man.

“It’s a different age today than it was 25 to 30 years ago. It’s a completely different atmosphere now, too,” Ganis said.

McFall, the Wake Forest economist, compared Curry to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who during the 2016 NFL season sat during the national anthem in protest of police brutality toward African-American civilians.

The gesture angered many fans, who took to social media to post images and videos of themselves burning Kaepernick’s jersey. But his jersey in early September rose to the top-selling spot in the league, weeks after he started his protest, despite the fact that he was a backup at the time, according to a Forbes report.

In light of that, Curry’s “dissident behavior” could even prove to be a commercial opportunity for him, McFall said.

“Speaking up to power, especially on issues relating to public policy of the Trump administration, might provide him some cache amongst fans with whom he had little,” McFall said.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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