Manny Pacquiao’s commentary on gay couples has lead to Nike terminating his contract. Earlier this week, Pacquiao compared gay couples to animals and, despite the apology, the comments have hurt him financially. As a result, he joins the list of celebrities that have seen their economic plans curtailed with off-color commentary.
Donald Trump might actually be in this category. I say “might” mainly because he’s more of an aspiring politician nowadays as opposed to a celebrity and some people might differentiate between the two.
But in 2015, when he made comments about Mexicans being criminals, it provoked many who were in business with Trump to re-evaluate their positions. For example, in a July 2nd article from last summer Matthew Chayes and Emily Ngo claimed that New York City was “reviewing the city’s business relationships” with Trump after he made comments “suggesting criminals were rife among Mexicans” that tried to enter the United States (newsday.com).
On a different matter, David and Jason Benham, former Major League Baseball players, had a television show lined up for HGTV in 2014. However, left-wing watchdog Right Wing Watch, put a stop to that when they published remarks of Jason’s that are similar to Pacquiao’s in the sense that they were taken as anti-gay.
What the contract terminations show is that either shutting up or only espousing politically correct opinions is a factor in business success in today’s world. If Pacquiao had made a politically correct statement or had just shut up, then nothing happens to his Nike contract. If Trumps espouses a tolerant attitude toward Mexicans – or just shuts up – then NYC doesn’t visit its business relationships with him. If the Benham brothers had just shut up or had said something politically correct then maybe their television show would have aired.
There is an issue of free speech that arises from this, one that I think thoughtful people will tune into. However, it’s not the typical free speech debate that usually involves the extent to which the government can silence people with dissenting opinions. Pacquiao’s contract termination has more to do with how consumers can silence the politically incorrect or force them to back down from their opinions, as Pacquiao did with an apology.
After all, when corporations sunder relationships with celebrities based on what they say they are often (only?) doing it to protect their own economic interests. That Nike does not want to align with Pacquiao following his comments doesn’t necessarily mean that Nike supports the gay community – the company itself will be made up of a vast array of people from different walks of life. Rather I think Nike terminating Pacquiao’s contract only shows that Nike wants the gay community, and people who are socially tolerant, to support Nike.
In regard to ‘free’ speech, there really isn’t any in this world for celebrities. Being one means having mass appeal for one reason or another. People liked Pacquaio as a boxer and that got him some endorsements. But the price tag on his speech is hardly free in price sense as his comments stand to cost him millions. When it comes to free speech in the liberal sense – if he’s primarily concerned about making money that will muzzle him.