Steeler’s Tweet Lawsuit Continues

A federal court in North Carolina has denied a motion to dismiss in Rashard Mendenhall’s breach of contract lawsuit against Hanesbrands. Mendenhall, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, had entered a contract with Hanesbrand to promote its Champion line of products. The contract contained what is sometimes referred to as a “morals clause.” Specifically, Section 17(a) says:

If Mendenhall commits or is arrested for any crime or becomes involved in any situation or occurrence (collectively, the “Act”) 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. HBI’s decision on all matters arising under this Section 17(a) shall be conclusive.

On May 2, 2011, the day after President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden, Mendenhall issued the following tweets:

What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…

I believe in God. I believe we’re ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge.

Those who judge others, will also be judges themselves.

For those of you who said we want to see Bin Laden burn in Hell and piss on his ashes, I ask how would God feel about your heart?

There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to #think.

@dkller23 We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.

In the wake of those tweets and the public outcry they engendered, Hanesbrand invoked Section 17(a) and terminated the contract. Mendenhall sued. Hanesbrand filed a motion to dismiss, noting that Mendenhall’s tweets clearly shocked and offended the majority of the consuming. More importantly, from Hanesbrand’s perspective, the last sentence of Section 17(a) gave it complete discretion on the issue. Mendenhall responded by citing to several positive responsive tweets:

@R_Mendenhall At first I was upset about ur tweets but like ur goal it got me thinkin mad respect for u man Love a man of God

@R_Mendenhall // appreciate your thoughts provoking tweets. it’s time people stop living a selfishly blind life.

@R_Mendenhall I’ve never been a Steelers fan, but I have more respect for you than any other professional athlere I can think of.

@R_Mendenhall your mental state should be the prototype for not just athletes but humans in general.

These led the court to conclude there was a question of fact as to whether a majority of the consuming public was in fact offended. And as to Hanesbrand’s unfettered discretion, the court found that the duty of good faith implied in all contracts limited that discretion. As a result, Mendenhall’s case lives on. So this case is either about the right of a celebrity to speak his mind, or its a case of a court imposing its will in disregard of a contract freely entered between two sophisticated parties. Of course, those of us in Cincinnati would find that the mere fact that Mendenhall plays for the Steelers is more than enough to bring him into disrepute. For Mendenhall’s sake, it’s probably a good thing I wasn’t the judge!