In July of 2011, soon-to-be 2012 free agent running back Rashard Mendenhall filed a one million dollar lawsuit against Hanesbrands, Inc. for wrongful termination of an endorsement contract compensating Mendenhall for promoting Champion Sportwear products. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the case was settled prior to court ruling.
Mendenhall was released after comments deemed unsympathetic and unpatriotic drew attention on Twitter. His controversial subjects covered such controversial topics as children and parenting, the September 11th attacks against the USA and the death of former Al-Quaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
Hanesbrand parted ways with Mendenhall following his Bin Laden tweets, citing a violation of his contract's moral clause - a generic phrasing found in almost every endorsement contract, in one form or another. The clause in his contract stated he would avoid any conduct which led him "into public disrepute, contempt scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult or offend a majority of the consuming public."
Mendenhall sued Hanesbrand and asked the court "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 these opinions?" He claims the moral clause in his contract was too "broad and ambiguous", being more relevant to tangible faults like criminal convictions.
Athletes lose endorsement deals for personal problems all the time. Tiger Woods lost multiple endorsement after details of his extramarital affairs were plastered all over mainstream media. However, Mendenhall felt his punishment indicted his human right to think for himself and formulate his own opinions. Hanesbrand insisted Mendenhall had the right to think or feel whatever he wanted, as long as he kept it to himself and not vicariously attach those opinions to other entities who were invested in his name and the public perception and reputation represented by it.
On Tuesday, both sides agreed to prevent the case from going to court by reaching a settlement and filing a notice of voluntary dismissal. Financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
While the outcome of the case could have gone either way, it is completely understandable by Champion and Hanesbrand would be willing to settle out of court rather than fight in one. Mendenhall was signed during a time when the Steelers were Super Bowl champions, and he was a highly visible part of Pittsburgh's success. Now, Mendenhall is about to leave Pittsburgh to test the waters of free agency. Teams willing to gamble on a former first-round draft pick from the University of Illinois who has failed to finish two of his first five seasons in the league, are not likely to be of the perennial contender variety. His suitors will be teams with need for talent and lots of extra cap space, not the hard-earned champion the clothing brand seeks to represent.
Mendenhall has never stated regret for the opinions which resulting in his endorsement termination, but he has acknowledged the toll they took on his public persona in Pittsburgh and with the Steelers. Mendenhall believes a new start with a new team is the only way he will escape the negative connotations and finally put the past to rest.
The troubled ball-carrier may discover a new team cannot change the past; but, having the company who terminated his endorsement contract legally - and financially - apologize may be the bandage to start the healing process for what is obviously still an open wound.