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Steelers' Mendenhall files suit over endorsement

| Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall has filed a federal lawsuit against the parent company of Champion athletic apparel over the brand's decision to end his endorsement deal after his controversial comments on Twitter.

Mendenhall filed the 23-page lawsuit Monday against HanesBrands Inc. in federal court in North Carolina and claims the company's decision to drop him is a breach of contract. He is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

The back questioned the American public's joy after the death of Osama bin Laden and the events of Sept. 11 while tweeting in the days following the raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan.

"For Rashard, this is not really about the money. This is about his right to express his opinions," said Steven Thompson, a Chicago attorney representing Mendenhall. "It was a knee-jerk reaction to his thoughtful comments expressing an opinion that was shared by many Americans."

A spokesman for HanesBrands did not return a call for comment. Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said the team would have no further comment on the matter. Team president Art Rooney II said in the days after the tweets that it was difficult to "even comprehend" what Mendenhall meant with his comments.

The lawsuit claims that Champion's decision to end its endorsement deal with the running back in May after he questioned the public celebration of bin Laden's death violates a contract extension the two parties signed in 2010, worth over $1 million. Mendenhall first signed with Champion when he entered the league in 2008.

"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 ...," Mendenhall tweeted in reaction to Americans publicly celebrating bin Laden's death. "I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge."

He also tweeted about the Sept. 11 attacks: "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."

The tweets gained national attention, and Mendenhall later clarified his comments and apologized to anyone he offended.

In other news

» Former Steelers quarterback and ESPN analyst Kordell Stewart plead guilty Tuesday to driving with an expired license and speeding, telling WSB-TV in Atlanta that he has to abide by the law like everyone else. He also told the station that his arrest "was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life because it was something that caught me completely off guard." Stewart played for the Steelers from 1995-2002.

» Ravens running back Ray Rice said he never intended to disrespect Hines Ward when he commented about the Steelers wide receiver's DUI arrest a week ago, but he still stands by his remarks. On Rice's Twitter account, he posted that Ward's drunken-driving charge was "not a good look" and predicted that he would be suspended for the season opener against the Ravens. "People look up to you, Hines," Rice said. "You just were on TV with 'Dancing with the Stars.' Ravens fans were upset that you won 'Dancing with the Stars,' but they still watched you. That shows your charisma and character. You've got a legacy in the NFL that no one can take away from you. But if you hurt somebody drunk driving, that takes away a lot."

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