Rashard Mendenhall Sues Champion Over Morals Clause

Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Rashard Mendenhall has sued Hanesbrands, Inc., the parent company of Champion, over the termination of his endorsement deal with the brand.  Champion allegedly dropped Mendenhall in the wake of his comments about September 11 and the death of Osama Bin Laden on his Twitter page. 

According to an Associated Press article posted on ESPN.com, Champion invoked the morals clause in Mendenhall’s contract as grounds for his termination:

The running back’s contract included provisions barring Mendenhall from actions that would bring him “into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult, or offend the majority of the consuming public,” along with other terms, Lynette Fuller-Andrews, a lawyer for Hanesbrands, wrote in a May 11 letter to Mendenhall’s representatives.

A morals clause is very common in an endorsement deal between a company and an athlete.  As a general rule, players seek very specific, limited clauses – for example, an athlete might seek a clause allowing the company to void the contract only if the athlete is convicted of a crime.   Companies seek broad language that provides them with flexibility to terminate the contract for a wide range of conduct, such as Mendenhall’s controversial tweets. 

Mendenhall’s lawyer claims that the lawsuit is not about the money, but Mendenhall’s right to express his opinion.  However, this suit is really about the contract, and specifically the scope of the morals clause.  “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 (as quoted by  Tom Breen’s AP Article).   If the morals clause consists of the broad terms quoted above, Mendenhall faces an uphill battle.

Thanks to Brian McLaughlin for providing the link to the AP’s story.

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