Un­der Ar­mour tak­ing heat from two sides

An­i­mal-rights ac­tivists, hunters clash over spear hunt­ing

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Lor­raine Mirabella and Jeff Barker

The hunter doused the Un­der Ar­mour T-shirt with lighter fluid and set it ablaze, be­fore re­peat­ing the act with an Un­der Ar­mour cap.

“You go against the hunters, the hunters are go­ing against you,” said Craig Bell, look­ing into the cam­era for the video, posted widely on hunt­ing sites.

Un­der Ar­mour, the Bal­ti­more-based ath­letic ap­parel brand, found it­self caught up in a so­cial me­dia up­roar over its deep in­volve­ment with hunt­ing when it dropped its spon­sor­ship of hunter Sarah Bow­mar af­ter she posted a video show­ing her hus­band spear­ing a bear in Canada. Wear­ing a cam­ou­flage jacket with a prom­i­nent Un­der Ar­mour logo, Josh Bow­mar ex­ults by rais­ing his arms af­ter the kill, which was filmed partly by a GoPro cam­era at­tached to the spear.

Im­ages of the bait­ing and ap­par­ent suf­fer­ing of the bear an­gered thou­sands of peo­ple who spoke out in pe­ti­tions and on so­cial me­dia, prompt­ing Un­der Ar­mour to ter­mi­nate its part­ner­ship with Sarah Bow­mar.

An­i­mal-rights ac­tivists de­manded the brand de­nounce prac­tices such as spear hunt­ing and bait­ing, as well as captive Craig Bell burns an Un­der Ar­mour hat in protest of the com­pany sev­er­ing spon­sor­ship of hunter Sarah Bow­mar.

hunt­ing, where hunters pay to kill an­i­mals kept in a con­fined area.

Then came an in­tense re­ac­tion from hunters, who crit­i­cized the brand for fail­ing to back what was a le­gal hunt that re­flected how hu­mans have hunted for mil­len­nia. Some called for boy­cotts. Ohio-based Sarah Bow­mar, who runs Bow­mar Fit­ness with her hus­band, a for­mer com­pet­i­tive javelin thrower, took to Twit­ter and In­sta­gram to de­fend the hunt as le­gal and eth­i­cal.

With its celebrity ath­letes, Un­der Ar­mour has built a rep­u­ta­tion as an ur­ban, as­pi­ra­tional brand for the young, ath­letic and health-minded. Hunt­ing, a pas­sion of one of its founders, has been an im­por­tant, if lesser known, cat­e­gory for the brand for more than a decade.

The du­el­ing back­lashes Un­der Ar­mour now faces partly re­flect the na­tion’s di­vided sen­si­bil­i­ties about hunt­ing.

“You’re go­ing to up­set one group, one way or the other,” said Bob Dorf­man, ex­ec­u­tive cre­ative di­rec­tor of Baker Street Ad­ver­tis­ing in San Fran­cisco. “You have to de­cide which mar­ket and which de­mo­graphic is more im­por­tant. It’s very hard to ap­pease both sides on such a hot is­sue and such a sen­si­tive is­sue.”

The com­pany de­clined to com­ment be­yond the state­ment it is­sued say­ing it had ended the re­la­tion­ship with Bow­mar.

“The method used to har­vest this an­i­mal was reck­less and we do not con­done it,” it said. “Un­der Ar­mour is ded­i­cated to the hunt­ing com­mu­nity and sup­ports hunt­ing that is con­ducted in com­pli­ance with ap­pli­ca­ble fed­eral, state and lo­cal laws and hunt­ing prac­tices that en­sure a re­spon­si­ble and safe har­vest of the an­i­mal.”

Sarah Bow­mar blamed in­ter­na­tional pres­sure from “anti-hunters,” for the ter­mi­na­tion, adding, “We did noth­ing wrong.”

“It re­ally breaks my heart,” she said in an Au­gust post af­ter the June video sur­faced. “We lived and breathed the brand for years and gave them ev­ery­thing that we had.”

Josh Bow­mar, in an in­ter­view posted on Twit­ter by his wife, said he’s been un­fairly cast as un­eth­i­cal and ar­gued that the an­i­mal suf­fered no more from a spear than it would have from an ar­row.

“This an­i­mal ran on adren­a­line and died very quickly and hu­manely,” he said.

Af­ter see­ing the video, one an­i­mal-rights ac­tivist from the Chicago area be­gan call­ing and email­ing Un­der Ar­mour ex­ec­u­tives. Kelsey Brickl’s Change.org pe­ti­tion called the hunt “sick­en­ing” and said the Bow­mars took “par­tic­u­lar plea­sure in the blood and gore left be­hind by the bear, who stag­gered off with a ter­ri­ble wound and wasn’t found un­til the next day.”

“There are not that many sportswear com­pa­nies that try to tar­get ten­nis play­ers and golfers and Euro­pean soc­cer fans and foot­ball fans and also hunters at the same time,” Brickl said. “A lot of times those mar­kets are not just un­re­lated but hos­tile to one an­other.

“This is a no-win sit­u­a­tion for Un­der Ar­mour. Now they’ve got hunters mad at them.”

Brickl buys Un­der Ar­mour’s Univer­sity Josh Bow­mar, seen here at left in a still image made from video on YouTube, dis­plays the spear with which he killed a large black bear, which re­sulted in a pub­lic back­lash. of Notre Dame fan ap­parel as an alumna of the univer­sity, and ex­pects her son will wear the brand when he starts play­ing sports.

But, she said, “I would pre­fer to buy fan ap­parel from Notre Dame from a com­pany that doesn’t have a hunt­ing divi­sion.”

Wayne Pa­celle, pres­i­dent and CEO of Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States, ar­gues that busi­nesses should run their op­er­a­tions in align­ment with their cus­tomers’ val­ues.

“A lot of Un­der Ar­mour cus­tomers are quite sur­prised and a bit star­tled by the com­pany’s very close com­mer­cial re­la­tion­ship with the sport- and tro­phy-hunt­ing com­mu­ni­ties,” Pa­celle said. “You just don’t think of Un­der Ar­mour and think of hunt­ing bears or li­ons or other crea­tures.”

While prais­ing the de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate its re­la­tion­ship with Sarah Bow­mar, the hu­mane so­ci­ety asked Un­der Ar­mour to take a stronger stand on prac­tices such as bait­ing. Pa­celle said most states ban bait­ing of deer, a fed­eral law bans bait­ing of water­fowl and only a hand­ful of states al­low bait­ing of bears.

“It’s one thing to sell prod­ucts that are go­ing to be used by hunters. It’s an­other thing to be an ac­tive pro­moter of recre­ational killing of wildlife,” Pa­celle said.

“You don’t see Nike do­ing it, and many main­stream brands would ab­so­lutely steer clear of this sort of dis­play of and pro­mo­tion of killing wild an­i­mals for recre­ation.”

Un­der Ar­mour ex­panded into hunt­ing around the time it went pub­lic in 2006. The com­pany started mar­ket­ing ColdGear and HeatGear prod­ucts in brown, green and cam­ou­flage for hunt­ing and other out­doors sports.

The brand be­came “huge” in the hunt­ing com­mu­nity, sign­ing celebrity hunters such as Cameron Hanes, Tiffany Lakosky, and Jim and Eva Shockey, said Bell, who owns an In­di­ana-based antler hunt­ing and ap­parel com­pany called Shed Heads. Hanes is a celebrity bow hunter, and Lakosky is on Out­door Chan­nel’s “The Crush with Lee and Tiffany.” Jim Shockey’s hunt­ing show on the same chan­nel also fea­tures his daugh­ter, Eva.

Un­der Ar­mour oc­ca­sion­ally sent Bell dis­count cards, he said, but now “the real true-blue hard-core hunters like my­self, they wouldn’t be caught dead in a pic­ture with that stuff on.”

Un­der Ar­mour, he said, “just stuck the big­gest knife in the back of ev­ery hunter pos­si­ble. … I be­lieve in hunt­ing with a spear, knife, gun, bow. If it’s le­gal and it’s a clean, eth­i­cal way to hunt, that should be sup­ported.”

Bell’s video, posted on his com­pany’s Face­book page, has more than 114,000 views.

Hanes, one of Un­der Ar­mour’s longest­spon­sored ath­letes, has ap­peared with Un­der Ar­mour co-founder Kip Fulks in episodes of “Ridge Reaper,” which aired for three sea­sons on the Out­door Chan­nel and launched a fourth sea­son last month on YouTube.

“I part­ner with them be­cause they be­lieve in me and I be­lieve in them,” Hanes said in a re­cent Face­book post about the con­tro­versy, adding that Un­der Ar­mour has been one of hunt­ing’s big­gest pro­po­nents for years.

“I don’t know of any other com­pa­nies that are as suc­cess­ful that would even mess with the hunt­ing mine­field.”

Hanes added that he has no prob­lem with spear hunt­ing but has re­frained from post­ing his own hunt­ing pho­tos or videos.

“What might seem per­fectly fine to us as hunters isn’t per­fectly fine with peo­ple on so­cial me­dia,” he said. “Mil­lions of peo­ple saw the spear kill and sim­ply didn’t get it, to them it seemed in­hu­mane, un­nec­es­sar­ily bru­tal and un­jus­ti­fi­able. ... to hunters, killing is part of the hunt.”

Un­der Ar­mour had to make a cal­cu­la­tion af­ter the video sur­faced. The com­pany cer­tainly knew it would face push­back from hunters, an­a­lysts said.

But the num­ber of peo­ple con­cerned about the way the bear was killed may out­weigh the of­fended hunters, said Matt Pow­ell, global sports in­dus­try an­a­lyst for The NPD Group in New York.

“I would sus­pect that there are an equal if not greater num­ber of peo­ple who were out­raged by the slaugh­ter,” Pow­ell said.

Ja­son Moser, an an­a­lyst with the Mot­ley Fool’s Mil­lion Dol­lar Portfolio, be­lieves as an in­vestor that Un­der Ar­mour re­sponded to a po­lar­iz­ing episode in the best pos­si­ble way.

“They’ve drawn their line. We know where they stand,” he said. “The key is to re­main con­sis­tent. Go­ing for­ward, the op­por­tu­nity is far greater for them be­yond just this hunt­ing pop­u­la­tion and this niche sub­sec­tion of the hunt­ing pop­u­la­tion.”

CRAIG BELL

SARAH BOW­MAR

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