Von Miller Took a Knee, Then a Sponsor Drew Scrutiny
The situation arose Monday morning — just hours after Miller had taken the symbolic knee. At that time, KOAA-TV, which delivers news to Southern Colorado, reported that Miller had lost an endorsement deal with Phil Long Dealerships, specifically Phil Long Ford of Denver.
The station later said it had based that on an email sent to media outlets on Monday by the advertising agency that represents Phil Long Dealerships. According to the station, the email said: “Please note ALL Von Miller ads needs to be removed. He is no longer a part of Phil Long.”
The news report has been removed from KOAA’s website. But The Denver Post reported that the station had said the dealership dropped Miller’s endorsement “because of his protest.”
Later on Monday, Robert Wilson, a spokesman for Vanguard Sports, which represents Miller, told the station that discussions were underway to renew the linebacker’s contract with the dealership but that the dealership said it had “decided not to move forward with the contract this year.”
But he also said Miller had not had a deal in place for months, so the linebacker had not been “fired.” He declined to comment further Wednesday when reached by The New York Times.
A statement released Monday by Phil Long Dealerships did little to clarify matters, saying the company had been “in the middle of contract renewal” with Miller and had not, in fact, “fired Von.”
The statement seemed to both support Miller and express concern about how his conduct reflected on the business.
“This weekend’s events remind us that sometimes we feel that we best represent ourselves,” said the statement, which was provided to The Times. “We support Von and his First Amendment rights, we know Von and he’s a good person. He donated a police car to his hometown police dept. All that notwithstanding when we bring in celebrities to represent us we run the risk of being misrepresented.”
“While we can’t control the actions of others,” the statement continued, “we can be responsible for how we support our nation and community.”
By Monday night, KOAA had posted a story saying it had erroneously reported that Miller had been fired, apologizing for what it called “a mistake.”
By that time, Yelp users had descended onto the site to pillory Phil Long Ford of Denver for firing Miller. On Wednesday, Yelp added an alert that popped up on the dealership’s page noting that the business had “recently made waves in the news,” and that moderators would “work to remove both positive and negative posts that appear to be motivated more by the news coverage itself than the reviewer’s personal consumer experience with the business.”
That cleanup process began on Wednesday, Yelp said, so several one-star reviews from earlier in the week remained on the company page as of Wednesday afternoon.
“We’ve seen those,” Shawn Flynn, chief marketing officer at Phil Long Dealerships, said in a phone interview on Wednesday, “and we continue to respond to them as we see fit.”
Since Monday, various media outlets have published stories about Miller and the dealership — most with slightly varying interpretations of what happened.
Flynn maintained that Miller had not been fired and that the business and athlete were “in the middle of another contract negotiation as we speak.” Their previous endorsement contract had expired months ago, he said.
Flynn also said Miller’s choice to kneel on Sunday had no effect on the dealership’s relationship with him.
Asked later Wednesday whether it was true that the dealership had at some point “decided not to move forward” with contract negotiations, as Miller’s representative had contended on Monday, Flynn issued a second statement to The Times.
That statement did not directly address the question, nor whether the public backlash had any effect on the company’s view of a future relationship with Miller.
It reiterated that “Miller was never fired,” that he did not “lose an endorsement deal over a protest” and that there had been “consistent communication” with Miller’s agent about a deal.
“On Monday morning, our dealership rotated different TV ads while we were discussing Sunday’s situation, however Von was and still is featured in a number of our marketing assets” the statement said, adding that “we look forward to continuing our discussions and working with him in the future.”
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