Does the CEO of a company have the right to express his own viewpoint publicly? Tim Cook certainly thinks so, and the mainstream media (or as I like to call them, the Mainstream Current Events Opinion Outlets) seem to agree. I don’t recall seeing an article or a celebrity bashing Tim Cook for his recent political comments opposing Trump. I’m sure there is some article out there somewhere taking issue with what Tim Cook said, but I simply don’t recall seeing one. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, on the other hand, made a remark praising Trump, and I can’t escape articles bashing him on news feeds and social media. Stephen Curry lashed out, and now Dwayne Johnson is speaking up about Kevin Plank’s comments.
Does Dwayne Johnson have just as much right to express his own viewpoint publicly as the Under Armour CEO does? (You notice that’s a rhetorical question, right?) If Dwayne Johnson wants to express his opinions, he has the right to do so—as a private citizen. He may or may not have a right to do so as a representative of Under Armour. I don’t know the terms of his contract. He is a spokesperson for the company, but the exact nature of his spokesmanship can be discovered only by reviewing his contract with Under Armour.
It is not generally considered that the celebrity sponsored by a company speaks for the company on all matters. Usually, the celebrity speaks only on behalf of a product, and we can probably all think of cases when a celebrity comes out with a statement regarding issues (political, social, moral, ethical) and is subsequently dropped by the sponsor. Steph Curry’s statement is certainly the kind of comment that could get a celebrity dropped from a sponsor. (It’s outside of what I’m trying to accomplish here to go into how many times in recent years a spokesperson has been dropped for expressing politically incorrect views, but you can look it up for yourself; it’s more than a few.) I don’t mean that I think Steph Curry should be dropped. I mean that it is the type of statement, viewed from a politically agnostic perspective, which has caused companies to drop their spokespeople in the past. It is also the kind of statement that members of the politically correct class have actually demanded that companies drop a spokesperson for. (Again, not my purpose to expound on this or prove it; if you’ve been watching, listening to, or reading the news, you’ve seen, heard, or read these things, and if you don’t remember them, look them up.)
Now, Dwayne Johnson, unlike Stephen Curry, doesn’t call Trump an ass. So his response is better than Curry’s in that respect. But isn’t the CEO inherently a spokesperson for the company itself at a deeper level than one of the celebrities that company sponsors? (You notice that’s a rhetorical question again, right?) Yet Dwayne Johnson speaks as if he has authority to speak on behalf of the entire company. He says he doesn’t, but then he does it anyway. Here is his entire post:
I appreciate and welcome the feedback from people who disagree (and agree) with Kevin Plank’s words on CNBC, but these are neither my words, nor my beliefs. His words were divisive and lacking in perspective. Inadvertently creating a situation where the personal political opinions of UA’s partners and its employees were overshadowed by the comments of its CEO. A good company is not solely defined by its CEO. A good company is not defined by the athlete or celebrity who partners with them. A good company is not a single person. A good company is a team, a group of brothers and sisters committed to working together each and every day to provide for their families and one another and the clients they serve. We don’t partner with a brand casually. I partner with brands I trust and with people who share my same values. That means a commitment to diversity, inclusion, community, open-mindedness and some serious hard work. But it doesn’t mean that I or my team will always agree with the opinion of everyone who works there, including its executives. Great leaders inspire and galvanize the masses during turbulent times, they don’t cause people to divide and disband. My responsibility here is not only to the global audience we serve, but also to the thousands of workers who pour blood, sweat, and tears into making Under Armour strong. A diverse group of hardworking men and women who possess integrity, respect and compassion for one another and the world they live in. Debate is healthy. But in a time of widespread disagreement, so is loyalty. I feel an obligation to stand with this diverse team, the American and global workers, who are the beating heart and soul of Under Armour and the reason I chose to partner with them.
My commitment is as real as my sweat and callouses that thicken daily. #CommittedToThePeople
And all of this from Dwayne Johnson was in response to this from Kevin Plank:
I think he’s [Trump] highly passionate. To have such a pro-business President is something that is a real asset for the country. People can really grab that opportunity. He loves to build—I don’t think there’s any surprises here. When you look at the president, he wants to build things. He wants to build things. He wants to make bold decisions and be really decisive. I’m a big fan of people that operate in the world of publish and iterate versus think, think, think, think, think. So there’s a lot that I respect there.
And Dwayne Johnson’s response is that Plank’s “words were divisive and lacking in perspective.” Hmm, someone’s comments were divisive, but they weren’t Plank’s. All Plank said was that Trump will be good for business, and he said it on a business news television network. A U.S. president can both be an ass—as Steph Curry said—and be good for business. So not only are Dwayne Johnson’s and Steph Curry’s remarks a severe overreaction, but they are also actually inapplicable. They actually don’t respond to the meaning of Plank’s words. But this is how the politically correct class always operates when someone says something that doesn’t fit their perception of the current (and always changing) politically-correct narrative and platform. Plank had every right to say what he said, both as an individual and as CEO. His critics who declare he was out of line are actually out of line themselves. They are the ones who—in the supposed name of free speech—who are the real threat to free speech. And that’s the real point we all should be concerned with in this scenario. Plank issued a statement via Under Armour in response to the outcry, but I wish he hadn’t. He didn’t have anything to apologize for, and I wish for the sake of all Americans that he hadn’t. We would all be better off if he showed the same resolve that Dwayne Johnson and Stephe Curry did.