Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall is suing the parent company of the Champion sports apparel maker, calling the decision to drop his endorsement deal over his tweets about the death of Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks a breach of contract.
Mendenhall's lawyers filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in North Carolina, seeking roughly $1 million in damages from Hanesbrands, Inc., the Winston-Salem-based corporate parent of Champion.
The complaint says Champion's decision to end its endorsement deal with Mendenhall in May, days after he questioned the public celebration of bin Laden's death, violates a contract extension the two parties signed in 2010, worth more than $1 million. Mendenhall first signed a deal to endorse Champion products when he entered the league in 2008.
"For Rashard, this really is not about the money. This is about whether he can express his opinion," said Steven Thompson, a Chicago-based attorney representing Mendenhall.
Ah, news flash, Mr. Thompson. Mendenhall already expressed an opinion. Several, in fact. So is the implication here that he should be able to speak without consequences? As an attorney, Thompson should know that the only guarantees of being able to "speak freely" (within a 1st amendment context) is that one will not be incarcerated if one speaks out against his/her government.
The fact of the matter is whenever an athlete is signed to an endorsement deal, their responsibility is more than just hyping a company's product. Said athlete is also representing the company itself, which means Champion had the right to expect Mendenhall to be a good ambassador for its entire enterprise. In fact, all businesses would take steps to rectify any detriment to its profit-making ability, whether it be replacing shoddy equipment manufacturing its product, leaving a state which levies excessive taxes, etc. Why should taking action to ensure good public relations be any different?
As such, it seems Champion outlined in its agreement with Mendenhall that he not do anything to jeopardize his "ambassadorship."
The running back's contract included provisions barring Mendenhall from actions that would bring him "into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult, or offend the majority of the consuming public," along with other terms, Lynette Fuller-Andrews, a lawyer for Hanesbrands, wrote in a May 11 letter to Mendenhall's representatives.
"Morals clauses" are commonly invoked when an athlete's behavior makes the wrong kind of headlines. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick lost endorsement deals after revelations about his participation in a dogfighting ring, and Tiger Woods was dropped by some of his sponsors following the disintegration of his marriage over accusations of serial infidelity.
Perhaps Mendenhall can find other source to supplement his NFL salary. Given his penchant for political and social commentary, maybe MSNBC can give him a shot. They'll give just about anyone a show these days.