Rashard Mendenhall's candid tweets about Osama bin Laden's death and the 9/11 terror attacks cost him an endorsement deal.
Athletic apparel manufacturer Champion announced Thursday that it had dropped the Pittsburgh Steelers running back after he questioned the celebrations of bid Laden's death and expressed his uncertainty over official accounts of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York, suburban Washington and Pennsylvania.
Spokesman Matt Hall told USA Today that the company was "ending our business relationship" with Mendenhall because it didn't believe he "can appropriately represent Champion." Mendenhall had endorsed the company since 2008 and signed a four-year contract with it earlier this year.
Mendenhall responded Monday on Twitter to the joy greeting last weekend's announcement that a U.S. military team had killed bin Laden in a Pakistani mansion. He first tweeted, "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE and man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...," and followed with tweets questioning what really happened -- "I just have a hard time believing a plan could take a skyscraper down demolition style" -- and encouraging his followers on the social platform to "think."
A firestorm of controversy erupted around Mendenhall, who on Wednesday clarified and apologized for the tweets.
That didn't stop Mendenhall from losing his endorsement deal with Champion, which released this statement:
"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."