Rashard Mendenhall made much of America hate him after his tweets following the death of Osama bin Laden in early May. This included at least one member of corporate America, as Mendenhall’s endorsement contract with Champion was terminated.
Now the Steelers running back is doing something very American: he’s suing.
CNBC’s Darren Rovell reported on Twitter that Mendenhall is suing Champion–which is owned by Hanesbrand–for his termination. When they severed ties with the 24-year-old shortly after the national firestorm ignited by his tweets, Champion released a statement to ESPN explaining their decision. After outlining their position as a strong supporter of the government’s fight against terrorism, Champion said a “business assessment” was completed to evaluate Mendenhall’s future with the company.
That future clearly wasn’t very bright:
“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.”
There’s little doubt that a mountain of legal paperwork containing Latin words we can’t properly pronounce is hiding somewhere, with a copy in the offices of Champion and another tucked in the drawer of Mendenhall’s lawyers. Somewhere in that sea of black-and-white there could be a tiny loop hole that Mendenhall has found, or perhaps there’s a procedure in contract termination that wasn’t followed properly by Champion. It’s times like this when the rich professional athlete becomes painfully normal, and is just another rich guy using his rich guy clout to pay a man in a suit to be his courtroom bully.
It’s too soon to comment on whether or not this strategy will work, but such a comment is fruitless and irrelevant anyway. Athletes often earn a good chunk of their income through endorsement deals, and being paid to push products has become an even more important American pastime during the NFL lockout, when the prospects of receiving a paycheck in September sometimes looked bleak at best. Mendenhall is more than entitled to pursue this lost personal income with Champion if he has an avenue to do so and feels he’s been wronged.
But he needs to do it knowing that the court of public opinion has largely branded him as a bonehead, and that chasing after lost funds due to his 140 character-long lapse in judgment will only drive that wedge deeper. It’ll also keep the bad press churning for a conservative Steelers organization that’s dealt with an unusual amount of scorn and out-of-character missteps this offseason.