NBC News correspondent and MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle reported on and boosted Under Armour shoes on the air, without disclosing to viewers that she had an existing relationship with the sports apparel company's CEO and, according to individuals at the company, coordinated with Under Armour to defend the shoes.
Ruhle and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank have developed "close ties" in recent years, with Plank treating Ruhle to trips on his private jet and Ruhle advising Plank on business matters, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Under Armour employees found the arrangement "problematic" and believed Ruhle and Plank were in a romantic relationship, according to individuals familiar with the matter. The Under Armour board also uncovered "emails that showed an intimate relationship between them," those people said, but the company told the Wall Street Journal the two were "friends." Both Ruhle and Plank are married.
In June 2016, the company released Steph Curry-branded sneakers that were universally roasted as ugly and boring. Under Armour employees were told not to address criticism because Ruhle told the company "she would step in and discuss the shoes on TV," WSJ reports.
Sure enough, archived video of Ruhle's appearance on NBC's "Today" that weekend shows she defended the shoes without disclosing her and Plank's relationship—business, friendship, or otherwise—or revealing that she coordinated with Under Armour.
"I really like this shoe," Ruhle told co-host Craig Melvin.
Ruhle acknowledged the harsh nicknames for the shoes, but responded that "they look an awful lot like a classic Nike or a New Balance. That's a mass market shoe."
She argued that the backlash to the white shoe was just due to people being more familiar with the sleek black sneakers Curry wore on the basketball court. "This, just in time for Father's Day, dads!" she said, holding the shoes and looking into the camera.
Ruhle also defended the sneakers on social media, saying she planned to buy a pair for her own father.
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) June 11, 2016
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) June 10, 2016
Ruhle would continue to hawk Under Armour products and feel-good PR campaigns at least a dozen times throughout the next two years, never disclosing her reported relationship or role as an advisor.
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) February 4, 2017
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) February 14, 2017
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) April 17, 2017
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) June 1, 2017
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) June 25, 2017
My glasses? @underarmour frames! Thanks
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) August 5, 2017
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) September 10, 2017
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) September 23, 2017
Well @warriors may be @NicolleDWallace’s home town team… but I plan to take buckets of credit for the court magic I delivered to @StephenCurry30
& my house boasts more of his sneaks than an @UnderArmour store https://t.co/bFAhSRGedZ
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) June 1, 2018
There’s always good news somewhere!
— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) November 30, 2018
MSNBC did not respond to a request for comment.