Not that long ago, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall caused a stir with some tweets condemning most Americans’ reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden as well as suggesting that 9/11 may have been a conspiracy. Immediately, Steelers management and players backed away from Mendenhall’s comments and the back was eventually lost a sponsorship deal with Champion athletic apparel.
It seems that Mendenhall is fighting back, according to a tweet from Darren Rovell.
Breaking News: Rashard Mendenhall plans to sue HanesBrand parent Champion for terminating him after 9/11 tweets.
I’m curious to know what Mendenhall’s argument is and what exactly he’s seeking. Any judgment will likely be based heavily on the language in the contract the two sides agreed upon. But this certainly isn’t the first time an athlete or celebrity has been fired for controversial tweets. Champion did what they felt was best for their brand, and whether you agree with their actions or not, it shouldn’t have been surprising.
Which means this could serve as nothing more than an expensive lesson in free speech for Mendenhall. Just as he had every right to make the statements he did on Twitter, everyone else has the right to react with anger, disgust, confusion or any other emotion that was expressed – so long as it doesn’t involve threatening harm. Similarly, any company that Mendenhall or any other athlete partners with is going to separate themselves from anyone deemed controversial. Especially if that athlete isn’t considered a mega-star. If Mendenhall had Peyton Manning or Tom Brady-type star power, perhaps advertisers find it a little easier to forgive.
The lesson in the end is that media members and fans love honesty from athletes – it gives us stuff to write about and keeps Twitter humming – but advertisers have never felt the same. Selling to a wide demographic means not offending any part of that demographic and since sometimes unfiltered opinion can ruffle feathers, most big-name sponsors would just prefer that you keep your thoughts to yourself.