The backlash to Rashard Mendenhall's Osama bin Laden tweets has gotten a little more real.
Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers running back and guy who probably doesn't like Twitter anymore, has been let go as a spokesman for Champion. Here's the statement released by the company, via USA Today:
Champion is a strong supporter of the government's efforts to fight terrorism and is very appreciative of the dedication and commitment of the U.S. Armed Forces. Earlier this week, Rashard Mendenhall(notes), who endorses Champion products, expressed personal comments and opinions regarding Osama bin Laden and the September 11 terrorist attacks that were inconsistent with the values of the Champion brand and with which we strongly disagreed. In light of these comments, Champion was obliged to conduct a business assessment to determine whether Mr. Mendenhall could continue to effectively communicate on behalf of and represent Champion with consumers. While we respect Mr. Mendenhall's right to express sincere thoughts regarding potentially controversial topics, we no longer believe that Mr. Mendenhall can appropriately represent Champion and we have notified Mr. Mendenhall that we are ending our business relationship. Champion has appreciated its association with Mr. Mendenhall during his early professional football career and found him to be a dedicated and conscientious young athlete. We sincerely wish him all the best.
Mr. or Mrs. Champion, or whoever is in charge of the company, has a right to employ whoever they want as a celebrity endorser, and since Mendenhall's words run pretty contrary to public opinion, it's probably best for their bottom line to cut and run. I don't blame them.
They get some headlines out of the deal, too (like this one, for example), and they also get to release a tidy little statement in which they mention their company's name seven times in six sentences.
I'm pretty sure this won't be the case, but I hope this is where the punishment ends for Mendenhall.
At the end of the day, this is just a guy who tweeted something unpopular. He did not punch anyone in the face. He did not get picked up for driving drunk. He was not arrested for domestic abuse. He did not have a gun in a night club, father 47 children by 39 women, obstruct justice, fight dogs, commit sexual assault or send anyone unwanted pictures of his genitals.
No, what he did was question the celebration of death and wonder if maybe the government wasn't telling the people the truth (others have also done this recently). Is that so bad?
I'm not defending what Mendenhall said. You don't have to like it. I personally don't happen to agree with him, but that doesn't mean I'm going to permanently label him as an evil dipstick, either. It's OK with me that not everyone is going to be John Cena about this.
Even if Mendenhall is wrong -- really, really wrong -- it doesn't make him a bad guy. In fact, at the core of what he said, there's a seed of love and compassion. He spoke against hate and judgment.
He believes some unpopular things. That's it. I know that I cheer everyday for athletes with whom I would not agree on political or ethical issues, and you probably do the same. In fact, if you're a sports fan at all, it's overwhelmingly likely that you have cheered for guys who have broken actual laws and hurt actual people.
Mendenhall lost an endorsement, and he probably should have expected that. If he loses any more than that, though -- for example, the good will of the fans for the rest of his career -- it would be a shame. This is not a bad person.
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