Football Player Sues Hanes; Says It Can't Fire Him Over Controversial Things He Said On Twitter

from the freedom-of-speech-is-different-than-contractual-relationships dept

NFL player Rashard Mendenhall is suing Hanes for dropping his sponsorship deal, after he said some controversial things on Twitter about the Osama bin Laden killing. Hanes points to a “moral clause” that was in its contract with Mendenhall. In response Mendenhall says that he should have a right to express his opinions. I can’t see this going very far. Mendenhall certainly has a right to express his opinions, but none of that means that Hanes has to continue working with him. There’s some argument that the morals clause is “broad and ambiguous,” making it unenforceable, but that seems like a stretch.

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Comments on “Football Player Sues Hanes; Says It Can't Fire Him Over Controversial Things He Said On Twitter”

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Manabi (profile) says:

Mendenhall should have been a miner...

He’s missed his calling, he’s digging a hell of a hole for himself. You screwed up, and it’s cost you, the correct response is to clean up your act and work to get more sponsorship deals in the future. The incorrect one is to dig the hole deeper by suing (which will make future potential sponsors even less willing to work with you) and calling even more attention to the stupid thing you did.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: there's more to it, right?

A bit of Googling would have found it for you, some are even still up. One was “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…” (Source) Another was “We’ll never know what really happened, I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.” (Source) The first is more of an opinion and more defensible (especially in combination with some of the other tweets commenting on his believing God to be the only judge) although it’s still questionable as, well, we’ve all heard Bin Laden speak numerous times in his taped messages. So, most people probably took it as support for Bin Laden due to the way Mendenhall phrased that particular tweet. The second one is, at least, borderline 9-11 denialism, which is probably the one that got him in the most trouble. Can’t really blame Hanes for not wanting to be associated with him, and even Mendenhall apparently realized he went too far, as that tweet has been deleted.

Apparently he’s been in trouble for his Tweets before now as well, for comparing the NFL to “modern-day slavery”, so this wasn’t an isolated incident. Hanes probably felt (justifiably) that he would continue to say stupid stuff and didn’t wish to be associated with that stuff.

Jake says:

Re: Re: there's more to it, right?

Expressing surprise and disbelief that the impact of two airliners could bring down both Towers is not, in and of itself, 9/11 denialism; nobody was expecting the results of the attack to be that devastating, not even the perpetrators.

Besides, am I the only one who’s bothered by the idea of someone getting fired merely for having unpopular political views, however fundamentally wrongheaded they might be?

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: there's more to it, right?

Being surprised about it before it happened and while it happened is one thing. Being surprised about it 10 years later when there’s been numerous studies into the disaster that have shown conclusively that it was the weakening of the structure caused by both the impacts (mainly from knocking fire-proofing off the girders) and the resulting fires fueled by the jets’ large fuel reserves is another thing entirely. The only people you really see making such claims nowadays are conspiracy theorists and 9-11 denialists. Neither camp is one you really want to be part of, especially not if you’re a company like Hanes that’s worried about their public image. Also, he said we’d never really know what happened, that is 100% incorrect, we do know exactly what happened and the results of that knowledge is being used in new construction to make it less likely it can happen again. And do note I said “borderline” denialism. I did qualify my remark. I also don’t really think he’s a 9-11 denier. I think he’s someone who really, really needs to think about what he’s about to say before he pushes send on his tweets.

I think it’s also important to note (again) that apparently Mendenhall agrees he went too far with that one particular tweet. It was deleted, the others weren’t.

I’m not bothered by it in this case because of the way sponsored athletes work. As a quote from this article points out:

?An athlete contracts away his free speech rights in signing his endorsement deal,? said Jeffrey Standen, a sports law professor and associate dean at Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore. ?What the sponsor is buying is the athlete?s name and image, and their name and image are related to public behavior and opinions.?

This is well known (this is also not the first time someone’s lost their sponsorship contract for doing/saying something really stupid) so there’s no excuse for behaving in a way you know is going to cause your sponsors problems if you actually agreed to let them sponsor you. It’s a trade off, you get money for being sponsored, but in exchange you become one of the company’s public faces, so you lose some freedom in what you can say and do. If you don’t like that, then maybe you should pass and do without the money. The choice is yours, no one is forcing you to take that sponsorship contract.

Also, do note, this is the second time this year he’s caused problems with controversial tweets. So this isn’t like he just said something stupid/unpopular once and was canned. It’s also notable that both times the most controversial tweets look less problematic in the context of several other tweets done at the same time. I think Mendenhall really needs to get a blog so he can have his whole argument up in one chunk, instead of posting it in 140 character chunks that can more easily be taken out of context.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 there's more to it, right?

“numerous studies into the disaster that have shown conclusively that it was the weakening of the structure”

Conclusively? Hardly!!

and how many of you have stated above that “he said something stupid”

SERIOUSLY, there’s not a single techdirt reader who has any doubts about that?? Why, just cause your overstimulated brains can no longer stand to think about it 10 years later and you read a study or two, funded by god only knows, in that intervening 10 year period that lets you forget about it?? BAAAAAH BAAAAH!! Freaking SHEEP

NOTHING is ever proven ‘conclusively’, you should always have doubts. Especially of an act that resulted in the largest loss of liberties and the grossest abuses of our power on the world stage we have ever experienced. I repeat, BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH.

Nice thing about sheep is they can be sheared over and over and over and over and over and over and they never remember the last time

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 there's more to it, right?

The Flat Earth society still believes that the Earth is flat, despite numerous studies and proofs that it’s in fact a spheroid.

The religious people still believe in a God, despite that there’s been no hard evidence of a God.

From the texts mentioned in your previous posts I fail to see a reason why his contract was ended. I don’t see the controversy.
So what if he doesn’t believe a plane couldn’t crash into an iron-strenghtened highrise building to blow it up.

But I also fail to see the football player’s entitlement to the contract. They have a right to drop any one they are giving free* money to.

Sure we heard Bin Laden speak in those videos, but I don’t speak Afghan, so I have to rely on a translation.
I can see why someone would have an issue with relying on just a translation. But I do agree that we only hear one side of the stories. This age-old adage is still true, even to this day: One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

But this is coming from a non-US viewpoint. I guess being a 9/11 denier (which I don’t think Mendenhall is) is about as bad as a holocaust denier in Europe.

taoareyou (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 there's more to it, right?

Don’t you believe your viewpoint to be true? Is it not based entirely on something someone told you. Something that is theory, since scientifically, this theory has not been proven by testing and recreating the result.

Your belief in an unproven theory is your choice, but criticizing others who believe in an unproven theory does nothing for your own credibility.

That being said, I believe Hanes should be able to terminate a relationship with a sponsor if that sponsor’s positions could cause controversy and damage to their reputation and sales. Nobody is telling the NFL player he can’t express his opinion, but when those opinions can cause moral outrage, I believe it’s well within Hanes’ right to separate themselves.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 there's more to it, right?

“mainly from knocking fire-proofing off the girders”
Blahhhh ha ha ha. Yeah ok. I have installed that stuff, and can tell you with 100% certainty that stuff does not just fall off. 2:21 the fireproofing was being replaced throughout those buildings.

“weakening of the structure caused” Again I laugh, even if you believe the structure was weakened in the impact zone that does not account for the underlying structure just giving up.

“fires fueled by the jets’ large fuel reserves is another thing entirely.” Large fuel “reserves”? Yea ok.

“9-11 denialists” Thats a new one.

“we do know exactly what happened” citation needed
I guess you also believe the black boxes were never found or disintegrated as well.
If you believe jet fuel & office materials alone did this?
Can I have some of what you are smoking?

out_of_the_blue says:

Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

Hanes can’t dictate his every statement with the old “morals clause” on so complex a matter.

But as usual, there’s no good guy here. I’m not defending a millionaire football player. He should pay a 90 percent tax rate off the top, and THEN he can have “free” speech, ha.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: Re: Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

Mendenhall would still get about FOUR TIMES the US median income (that’s about $26,000 right now), for doing nothing except letting his name be used in connection with a product, so that wouldn’t exactly be oppressed, just less than obscenely privileged. As for gunpoint, tell me that you’re against Wall Street being bailed out with taxpayer money, or your position is trivially inconsistent.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

Mendenhall would still get about FOUR TIMES the US median income
Of course he has a short career which does justify somewhat above average pay.
Unfortunately sports stars have shown themselves to be particularly inept at managing their finances post retirement – so a modestly hign income (like they used to get back in the 60’s) doesn’t seem to be enough. They have to pe paid enough not to br broke after they have lost most of it through incompetence! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Stuart says:

Re: Re: Re: Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

I don’t know about him but…

I think that any bailout of a failing company is extreme stupidity at best. I rewards companies that do the wrong thing and by propping them up actually harms the companies that did the right thing.

Chrysler and GM get government money because the can’t control their costs and make product people do not want.

If they dad failed Ford world have come up quite a bit as the only major American car manufacturer. The foreign car companies would have come up a bit as well.

FDIC Insurance is stupid. Makes people not need to look at where they put their money. Banks do not have to compete on safety. So they compete on rates and toasters.

What you get is banks doing crazy ass shit to make money because their customers only care about return. If they are wrong the customer loses nothing and the bank gets bailed out. No problem.

Mendenhall is an idiot. He has the right to be one. Hanes lhas the right to not want to be associated with an idiot.
Mendenhall still has the right to not be robbed by the federal government. Though some days I wish there were and idiot tax.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

They’re not trying to dictate what he says, they’re using the morals clause to disassociate themselves with him so that people won’t associate Hanes with the questionable (and to many objectionable) stuff Mendenhall’s said (and probably will say in the future given this was his second time causing controversy with his tweets). He’s perfectly free to say whatever he wants, but there are sometimes repercussions to what you say, such as losing your lucrative sponsorship contract, and he just has to deal with those consequences. That’s part of freedom of speech, you can say it, but you better be willing to deal with what happens because you said it. If you aren’t, well, maybe you shouldn’t say it in the first place.

Morals clauses are in sponsorship contracts to cover situations just like this one. The sponsoring company has the right to protect themselves from the repercussions of speech they don’t agree with. Trying to force them to do otherwise would impinge on their rights actually, since businesses do have a freedom of speech right as well. Looking at it that way, Mendenhall’s not only not got the moral high ground, he’s trying to both escape the repercussions of his own freedom of speech (losing his sponsor) AND trying to impinge on Hanes’ freedom of speech.

There may not be a good guy here, but I do see Hanes as a bit of a victim. Mendenhall said some really stupid stuff and is unwilling to accept the consequences, so I have no sympathy whatsoever for him. You said it dude, now own up to the consequences and move on.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: Re: Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

Wasn’t clear that I ALSO agree that he sold his soul and can’t complain now. But that still doesn’t mean Hanes owns him: you can’t sign away civil rights, and here that trumps any interest Hanes has. — I just want the money taken out of silly sports contests as I want it taken out of Wall Street and everywhere else. The love of money is the root of all evil.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

Who’s signing away civil rights? I wasn’t aware that “civil rights” meant you can damage your employers as much as you please.

You break a clause in your contract, you get fired. No one’s stopping you from saying whatever you want, but no one’s forced to put up with whatever you say either.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

He’s not lost any civil rights, as I already pointed out, he was free to say whatever he wanted and did so. Now he’s dealing with the repercussions of that freedom. Hanes doesn’t have to stay associated with him if he’s tarring them with the same brush he’s tarring himself with. This is really no different than a regular employee (up to and including the C** level positions) saying something that the company disagrees with while on the clock then getting fired for doing so. (And there have been plenty of cases of employees saying stuff while off the clock, but doing so in a way that implied it was the company speaking, getting fired for doing so. Most of those cases have been upheld in the courts as well.) He’s also free to say whatever he wants now as well, he just won’t be quite as well paid an athlete because of something he said previously.

So he’s lost no rights, he exercised his right to free speech and now he has to deal with what happens next. There is NO civil right that says you get a free pass when you say something unpopular with your freedom of speech.

I really fail to see how you think Hanes is taking any rights away from him by severing his employment for saying whatever he felt like. The fact that most of the tweets in question are still up tells you that Hanes not only didn’t interfere with his freedom of speech, they didn’t force him to retract his statements!

DCL says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

Remember “free speech” is a government.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That doesn’t say anything about contract law between two people. The courts have ruled that you can’t sign away certain rights, but that doesn’t mean that companies have to maintain your employment if you break a moral clause.

You can have a private party clause that says if you stand on a car in the middle of Times Square and start reading Mien Kampf by Hitler out loud you will get fired. But that doesn’t mean you are legally prevented from doing so if you wanted to, you could still do start reading at any point (but you may get in trouble for impeding traffic).

dwg says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

Jesus, I’m so glad that someone finally put this succinctly. A private party cannot violate one’s Constitutional right to free speech–only a government entity can do that. Unless Hanes is a division of either a state government or the feds and I just haven’t been told, there’s no free speech problem here at all. It’s like trying to say that Tiger Woods’s First Amendment right to free association was violated when he lost endorsements because of his philandering.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

This idea that, we can publicly hold any political opinion we want, but it could mean that you can’t find a job (because the government established monopolists won’t hire you) is silly.

In a free market I would say such discrimination is more appropriate (though not necessarily. We have laws that prevent discrimination based on things like race, and I agree with these laws). But we don’t live in a free market. The cable and broadcasting companies benefit from government established monopolies and they pick and choose who they are willing to broadcast. I can’t simply start my own sports league and start broadcasting it over public airwaves or cableco infrastructure, I must go through a government established monopolist gatekeeper. This isn’t a free market, it’s one plagued with government established monopolies. As such, it needs regulations that prevent the abuse mentioned in the OP.

The mainstream media and these sports leagues are effectively using the power of the government to deny media access and job opportunity access to any sports player or public figure who holds the wrong opinion. That’s unacceptable. Government power should NEVER be abused like this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Mendenhall should dig in: he's right MORALLY.

(and in fact, I would argue that what is happening here is indeed a violation of free speech. The power of the government is effectively being used to censor speech, even if indirectly, through the imposition of government established monopolies and the abuse of monopoly power by govt established monopolists to censor speech they don’t like. That’s a first amendment violation. This idea that you have free speech but you must face the consequences applies in China just as well, the point is that the government can’t contribute to satisfying those consequences. In this case, they are, through the government establishment of monopoly power).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Eh

Given the circumstances, I’d say it means “we can cancel the contract if this guy does something stupid that’d make us look bad by association”. Even someone like me who knows next to nothing about sports knows that there are often tabloid-type scandals about sports stars, so a clause like that doesn’t seem unwarranted to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Eh

The question is, did he violate the morals clause? Did he do anything ‘immoral’? If not, then the contract is still valid. They can’t cancel his contract for doing something that’s not immoral and that’s not against the contract, it’s against the contract.

Perhaps there should be a ‘cancellation fee’ (which is sorta what contracted high executives sometimes get, depending on the circumstances) to deter arbitrary cancellations and to help ensure that a cancellation only occurs for good reason. If the contract issuers cancel the contract, they must pay the other party a certain amount of money.

Then again, sports stars are probably taken advantage of compared to high executives in this regard, because a high executive will probably better familiarize himself/herself with the terms of a contract before signing. and those representing sports stars are probably more interested in their own interests than the interests of the sports stars.

MD says:

Re: What argument?

I guess it depends what he thought a “morals clause” covered. If it was too ambiguous, he thought it did not cover free speech, then he has a case. I would assume a morals clause covers stuff like being indicted for dog-fighting or having a whole list of mistresses hit the tabloids while married, or gambling on your sport.

If basically it means “anything we want it to mean” then that should have been said more clearly in the contract, instead of pretending it means morality. I think such clauses should be thrown out, and any company that wants a sponsorship deal is along for the ride all the way – you can stop using his face in advertising, but you signed up for $1M over 2 years, you pay the whole $1M whether you use him or not.

The guy’s a moron (seriously, would you go into a burning building to set demolition charges near the same floor as the fire is burning? DO you think someone would notice? Do you have any idea HOW MUCH explosive it would take? There’s a thick steel pillar every 10 feet! Did you see any ring of explosions bursting outward several hundred feet just before the towers fell?? The idea is moronic on so many levels!!) but they bought him, he’s their moron, they should pay.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What argument?

(and, I do think that this is an example of cancellation abuse. By any reasonable standard, he did nothing immoral by simply expressing his honest opinion, regardless of whether or not his opinion is true or absurdly false. Heck, if anything, expressing his honest opinion is more noble and less immoral than the ‘immorality’ of hiding his opinion in fear of retaliation. I commend him for his bravery, regardless of whether or not I agree with his opinion).

DCL says:

Re: Re: Re: What argument?

All parenthetic posts are so much more compelling because you use them.
(I am going to try this going forward, hopefully you don’t have the patent/trademark/copy write on doing it).

(this is neat! everybody should try it!)

(Ok I admit this post is a shot only at your style and not substance… but the parentheses ploy worked because i noticed those posts more, even if I didn’t read your comments).

Jeremy2020 (profile) says:

He wasn’t fired *because* he said controversial things. He was fired because his job was to be a spokesman and representative for the brand.

Expressing his against the grain opinions publicly is doing a crummy job of that. If you’re bad at your job, you should be fired.

He was not good at that job. Notice his NFL job where being a spokesperson and representative is a secondary duty has not yet fired him because he is still performing the primary duties of that job.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yes, he should celebrate killing if that’s the mood of the country.

Woohoo, old unarmed man shot in the face by our crack team of trained seals, the elite of the elite in your armed forces.

I know lots of people despise the generality of US citizens*, but then a hell of a lot of you make it very hard for them not to.
It seems, this sports person had a slightly higher view of his fellow citizens, but he was clearly wrong.

*(I honestly keep trying to remind myself that some, heck possibly even a sizeable minority of US citizens are decent, intelligent people. It gets harder to convince myself of that though, every single day, I’ve already lost the ability to consider that a majority might be.)

mojo says:

Can we please...

…keep a track record of how many people have publicly lost their jobs because of something stupid they blurted out on Twitter?

How many times does this have to happen before it sinks in that no, the world does NOT need to know RIGHT NOW what you think about ANYTHING.

Still, this is the best ongoing example of internet narcissism backfiring.

You have tons of Twitter followers? Yes, you may have mentioned that. How nice for you. I know, I know, you’re busy right now trying to Tweet something that will insure you KEEP all those followers. Good luck with that.

Pass the popcorn, apparently this is going to be a long (and funny) show.

BongoBern (profile) says:

Corporate Image

I would think that a spokesman, or representative of a company would have to be aware of the image the company wants to present in public. A bit of free speech can entangle itself in public perception of the company. This may be a little overbearing, but Hanes is within its rights to terminate a contract it sees as harmful to public recognition.

BongoBern (profile) says:

Corporate Image

I would think that a spokesman, or representative of a company would have to be aware of the image the company wants to present in public. A bit of free speech can entangle itself in public perception of the company. This may be a little overbearing, but Hanes is within its rights to terminate a contract it sees as harmful to public recognition.

Ed Semeniuk says:

Analysis here

?If Mendenhall commits or is arrested for any crime or becomes involved in any situation or occurrence?tending to bring Mendenhall into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult or offend the majority of the consuming public or any protected class or group thereof, then we shall have the right to immediately terminate this Agreement.?
– The moral clause in Mendenhall?s Talent Agreement with Hanesbrands.

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. Champion has appreciated its association with Mr. Mendenhall during his early professional football career and found him to be a dedicated and conscientious young athlete. We sincerely wish him all the best.
– Hanesbrands press release announcing termination of Mendenhall.

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