Poorly thought-out statements on hunting have Camping World’s CEO Marcus Lemonis scrambling for cover.
Commenting on two-year-old photographs of a safari taken by Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric, Lemonis went on the record recently to say he was “disgusted” by pictures of the brothers posed with dead game. Various new reports stated that Camping World was pulling their sponsorship from the Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” TV show.
Barraged with emails from angry hunters, who felt betrayed by a company they had supported, Lemonis and Camping World then issued the following statement:
“To clarify our position, Camping World as America’s Largest Outdoor company, believes in personal freedom. In this country, people are free to choose. This issue at hand is not about whether people should be able to hunt or not. Our company is neither for nor against hunting. We are for personal choice and having people enjoy the outdoors in whatever fashion they choose. However, if and when the hunting of endangered species occurs, whether in the United States or abroad, it is not acceptable to even the most avid of hunters. We remain strong in our conviction of preserving the outdoors, protecting our great country’s lands and the freedom to choose.”
If anything, the statement made the situation worse. Of course, none of the species the Trumps hunted were endangered, and the ignorant suggestion they were only angered hunters more.
On March 20th, Laurie Lee Dovey, an RV enthusiast, veteran outdoor writer, and executive director of the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA), got Lemonis on the phone where he agreed to an online “press conference” with POMA members.
In the conference, Lemonis said, “I am deeply, deeply apologetic for any offensive behavior anyone believes I took part in. My reaction came from a lack of education, from a lack of understanding, and in no way was directed toward anyone in the hunting community. I am 100 percent in favor of legal hunting and fishing.
“My reaction was really born out of frustration. When I first received the pictures, as a nonhunter, I was caught off guard. I was unsettled. I’m deeply sorry I reacted with some of the words I did. My response was inappropriate and directed at the wrong group. My frustration was with the show’s production company for not giving me a heads-up on what was coming.”
Lemonis further stated that his company never pulled their sponsorship of the show. Though he did state they plan no future sponsorships, he says it’s not because of anything the Trumps did, it’s because of longstanding communication problems with the show's production company—which he says were the crux of the Trump issue.
Asked if he would consider advertising on something like The Sportsmen Channel, which delivers near-constant hunting shows, Lemonis said he’d consider it but would need to have some coaching to assess its business potential.
Lemonis also apologized for using the word “endangered” and indicated he had a better understanding of its definition than he did at the time of the original statement. He’s also learned that, “The hunting community knows the difference between endangered and non-endangered.”
While the onslaught of Internet comments that called for boycotting his company no doubt helped stimulate his apology, calls from Ted Nugent and Laurie Lee Dovey seem to have gotten through to him, too. Dovey said, “I believe his apology is sincere.” Ted’s statement was a bit more colorful:
“After the controversy surrounding the xposure of the Trump boys safari photos of African game, CEO of Camping World Marcus Lemonis was contacted and educated by your fearless SpiritWild leader Uncle Ted & he upgraded his awareness to the reality of the pureness of hunting as the ultimate and only honest conservation tool to keep wildlife flourishing. Marcus is a good man and totally supports hunting and fishing as the wonderful lifestyle that it is. We support Camping World and recommend it to all our fellow sporters.”
Apologies from CEOs can always be viewed more as damage control than anything else, and we have every reason to believe that is in play here. That original statement suggesting the Trumps were hunting “endangered species” was still up on Camping World’s Facebook page a couple hours after the press conference.
Taking it down or publishing a retraction would go a long way toward convincing me he’s learned his lesson.