Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall Loses Champion Endorsement over Bin Laden Tweets
Free speech and the free market don’t always play for the same team.
Rashard Mendenhall, a running back for the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, has been dropped from his lucrative endorsement contract with athletic apparel company Champion after controversial Twitter posts pertaining to the assassination of Osama bin Laden and 9/11.
According to ESPN, Mendenhall sparked widespread outrage earlier this week when he tweeted in response to the Super Bowl-like atmosphere surrounding the assassination of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden: “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…”
Mendenhall also tweeted about the 9/11 terror attacks: “We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”
Despite issuing a clarification and an apology two days later, Champion terminated his endorsement contract. The company sent the following statement to ESPN:
“Champion is a strong supporter of the government’s efforts to fight terrorism and is very appreciative of the dedication and commitment of the U.S. Armed Forces. 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. 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. 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.”
I can only assume that Mendenhall has heard Osama bin Laden speak, as have I. I cannot speak for Mendenhall or profess to know what his political beliefs are. We have, as Mendenhall accurately tweeted, heard only one side of the terror narrative. There is always more than one side to any story, and by automatically dismissing the very legitimate, very logical grievances of the bin Ladens out there, we invite them to harm us again. I can tell you that bin Laden makes some very good points in his speeches. I ask you to do yourself a favor and actually read one of them. Here’s one from 2004 in which he refutes former President George W. Bush’s claim that al-Qaeda attacked American because Islamic terrorists “hate our freedom.” If this is true, bin Laden asks, then why did al-Qaeda not strike Sweden? Bin Laden’s beef was not with freedom, it was with American (and Israeli) policies and actions that were destroying to the lives and the freedom of others. He, and many others around the world, despise America’s hypocrisy, not its freedom.
As for Mendenhall’s 9/11 tweet, well, there are an awfully lot of unanswered questions about what went down that tragic morning ten years ago. At the risk of sounding like a 9/11 conspiracy theorist (which I am certainly not), I won’t go any further with this. I’ll just say that Mendenhall was expressing a sentiment shared by millions of Americans who aren’t convinced their government was telling the whole truth about 9/11.
Let me get this straight: in no way am I endorsing Osama bin Laden or terrorism in any way. But to paint a picture of them as attacking us out of the blue and for no reason whatsoever save an irrational, reflexive hatred of American freedoms and the American way of life is disingenuous and fallacious.
Of course, by writing the words I just wrote I will now come under attack from the pseudo-patriotic, “USA! USA!” -chanting, ignorant masses. Yes, I said ignorant. Ignorant of the historical and political realities that create the ideal conditions for terrorism to bloom. Ignorant of the fact that constructive criticism does not amount to treason. Ignorant of the world beyond the borders of their country or even their state. If there are two words that sum up the American experience, they may very well be ignorance and hypocrisy. We revel in our ignorance and flatly deny our hypocrisy.
And we wonder why the Osama bin Ladens of the world want to attack us.
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