The athletic apparel company Champion has decided it no longer wants to be associated with Rashard Mendenhall, days after Mendenhall wrote on Twitter that he didn’t believe hijacked planes caused the collapse of the World Trade Center, and that people shouldn’t celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden.
“Earlier this week, Rashard Mendenhall, 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,” the company said in a statement, via Michael McCarthy of USA Today. “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.”
It’s commendable that Champion noted in its statement that Mendenhall has a right to express his beliefs. No one can take away Mendenhall’s First Amendment right to make the comments he made.
But when you’re a celebrity endorser, your ability to do that job effectively is directly related to how much people like you. People just don’t like Mendenhall very much right now, and therefore it’s no surprise that a company doesn’t want its products associated with him.
Mendenhall took a step in the right direction when he offered an apology this week and attempted to expand upon his beliefs that celebrating the death of anyone is wrong. But Mendenhall has still not backed away from (or even explained) the bizarre 9/11 conspiracy theory tweet that he later deleted. That tweet was offensive to many, and it should serve as a cautionary tale to other professional athletes about how easy it is to lose an endorsement in 140 characters.