Following the reports of Osama Bin Laden’s death in May of 2011, Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall took to twitter in an attempt to curb the Nation’s enthusiasm. The remark not only earned him public backlash, but also got him cut from his endorser Hanesbrands’ roster. Mendenhall retaliated in July of the same year by filing a lawsuit against the corporate clothier for terminating his contract. His argument: Does a public figure concede the right to express an opinion that may not coincide with the views of the brand he or she endorses?
The suit, which specifically addresses Charlie Sheen as an example, also alleges that Hanesbrand has been arbitrary and unfair in selecting endorsers for their products. Sheen, who notoriously accused the The United States Government of covering up details of the September 11th attacks, has also been an endorser for Hanes. Mendenhall has since exemplified Sheen to illustrate the brand’s selectivity.
Hanesbrand contends that the actor’s contract varies from the running back’s, deeming Mendenhall’s argument as irrelevant. “Under the terms of the Sheen agreement,” the company insists, “Hanebrands’ right to terminate could not be triggered by anything less than the filing of criminal charges against Mr. Sheen.” But Mendenhall’s representative has seen an opening in the brand’s defense, as Sheen was hired by Hanesbrand after the 9/11 comments were made.
Though the outcome of this case does not show signs of coming in the foreseeable future, Mendenhall’s verdict could set a precedent among celebrity endorsers. Like many endorsement deals, the Steelers back had a “morals clause” written into his contract with Hanesbrand that prohibited activities that would bring the company’s values into question. Shedding light on the vagueness of such a clause could avoid future problems with similar celebrity situations.
I believe that a company should have every right to terminate an employee (or in this case, endorser) for anything that could reflect poorly upon its brand. Unless one is self-employed or the owner of their own company, there is a larger entity for them to answer to. Though everyone has a right to their own opinion, situations like this can affect more than just the person expressing themselves. There is a time and place for everything, and Rashard Mendenhall showed a lack of judgement in his tweet that was worthy of his termination.