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Most athlete endorsers have contracts that include deliberately vague language concerning off-the-field behavior that companies can use in situations exactly like these, McCann said. Such language was cited in a May 11 letter to Mendenhall’s representatives, written by Lynette Fuller-Andrews, a lawyer for Hanesbrands.

The running back’s contract included provisions barring Mendenhall from actions that would bring him “into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult, or offend the majority of the consuming public,” along with other terms, Fuller-Andrews wrote.

“It’s going to be tough for him to prevail, because that gives the company a lot of leeway,” McCann said. “Once you sign off on very generic, all-inclusive phraseology, it’s very hard to get out of that.”

“Morals clauses” are commonly invoked when an athlete’s behavior makes the wrong kind of headlines. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick lost endorsement deals after revelations about his participation in a dogfighting ring, and Tiger Woods was dropped by some of his sponsors following the disintegration of his marriage over accusations of serial infidelity.

But the ease with which athletes can land in trouble with social media tools like Twitter likely mean endorsement deals in the future will be different, said Porcher Taylor, a professor in the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Richmond.

“Every celebrity endorsement contract of any kind in the future must have a Twitter/Social Media clause,” Taylor wrote in an email. “I will be so bold as to state that the failure to not have such a clause would be tantamount to endorsement contract drafting malpractice.”