Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall seems to have won round one in his attempt to sue athletic apparel company Champion, who is owned by Hanesbrands, for breach of contract.
The company ended its sponsorship relationship with Mendenhall following his controversial remarks made on Twitter after the death of Osama bin Laden. Mendenhall stated in those tweets that he thought no one should celebrate the death of bin Laden, and he also questioned whether the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 was really caused by terrorist hijackings.
The Hollywood Reporter reports that a North Carolina federal judge is allowing the case to move forward after Hanesbrands said it was compelled to act on the contract termination by using U.S. trademark law as its defense. Hanesbrands also reportedly had argued that the public backlash they received from the Mendenhall tweets was enough to trigger termination under its morals clause.
This case apparently has a bigger reach than we first imagined, especially when it comes to all high profile athletes and celebrities. When you get freedom of speech involved in any high profile case, it is bound to make waves. Seems like morality clauses might have to be a little better defined moving forward in endorsement contracts and even then there are likely to be loop holes.
In my opinion companies might just need to be a little more careful with who they choose to endorse their products instead of just throwing cash at anyone and everybody. We will keep you posted as this plays out, but Mendenhall seems to have a legitimate case.
Mendenhall is currently rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns last year. He is entering the final year of rookie contract and is slated to start the 2012 season on the PUP list.