MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle advised Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank on how he should engage with President Donald Trump at the start of his tenure, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Ruhle's involvement – she also gave Plank business and marketing advice and often flew on his private jet – was described as "unusual and problematic," according to several people who spoke with the Journal.
Executives told the news outlet Plank took Ruhle's advice on curbing backlash to one of the brand's flagship 2016 basketball shoes, which were slammed for their ugly design.
Employees were told to stop responding to social media criticism until Ruhle talked about the shoe controversy during a segment.
Under Armour denies the claim.
"To suggest that we waited to respond for a particular reporter is ridiculous," Under Armour's senior vice president of communications Kelley McCormick told the Journal. "We wasted no time in defending our brand."
Last year, the company uncovered emails that showed Ruhle and Plank were intimately involved, and the board probed whether Plank misused company funds on the affair. The pair have denied any romantic involvement.
Plank in 2017 ultimately voiced support for Trump but was criticized for doing so following the rollout of Trump's travel ban policy. Later that year, Plank dropped out of a White House business coalition.
"The idea that Mr. Plank uniquely listens to any one individual is absurd," McCormick said.
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