The last we heard from Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall he was tweeting with reckless abandon shortly after we found out Osama Bin Laden had been killed.
Mendenhall apologized via his personal website two days later saying:
“First, I want people to understand that I am not in support of Bin Laden, or against the USA. I understand how devastating 9/11 was to this country and to the people whose families were affected. Not just in the U.S., but families all over the world who had relatives in the World Trade Centers. My heart goes out to the troops who fight for our freedoms everyday, not being certain if they will have the opportunity to return home, and the families who watch their loved ones bravely go off to war. Last year, I was grateful enough to have the opportunity to travel overseas and participate in a football camp put on for the children of U.S. troops stationed in Germany. It was a special experience. These events have had a significant impact in my life.”
At that point the damage had already been done.
Those remarks led Champion to relieve him of the privilege of representing their brand. Today CNBC’s Darren Rovell learned that Mendenhall filed a lawsuit in District Court in North Carolina, the home of Hanesbrand (Champion’s parent company). He’s reportedly seeking in excess of $1 million in damages, which was roughly the amount he was still owed over the remainder of his contract.
The suit, per Rovell, reads:
This case involves the core question of whether an athlete employed as a celebrity endorser loses the right to express opinions simply because the company whose products he endorses might disagree with some (but not all) of those opinions.
Mendenhall’s attorney, Stephen Thompson, spoke in a bit more detail regarding the matter:
“Although the lawsuit seeks damages, this case is truly not about the money. In this age of widespread social media, Rashard believes (whether an athlete can be fired for his or her opinions) is an important question for all athletes who serve as celebrity spokespersons, and he intends to pursue this lawsuit to vindicate his rights and those of other athletes caught in this situation.”
Needless to say, Mendenhall will probably face a difficult time securing endorsement deals for the immediate future. His best bet might be to work on shedding that “fumble machine” label James Harrison stuck on him last week and worry about other endorsements later.