Why Did Hanes Stand By Charlie Sheen For So Long?

The news that Hanesbrands Inc. (HBI) has officially severed its ties with actor Charlie Sheen comes as no surprise given the domestic violence charges facing the star of CBS Corp.'s (CBS) hit comedy Two and a Half Men. What is surprising is that it took the maker of T-shirts and underwear more than two weeks to make what would seem to be a no-brainer of a decision. That long pause was almost as strange as the now-suspended advertising campaign featuring Sheen and basketball great Michael Jordan.I can only imagine the frantic meetings that must have been going on in the offices of Hanesbrands' Winston-Salem, N.C, headquarters since Sheen's Christmas day arrest for allegedly threatening his wife, Brooke, with a knife. Tabloid reports have claimed that she was drunk at the time, and that he, who had claimed for years to have conquered his substance-abuse problems, was intoxicated as well. Domestic violence, of course, is a horrendous problem, and the couple are the parents of two toddlers, who matter a hell of a lot more than underwear ads. But for shareholders, Charlie and Brooke are not the villains in this story: Hanes is.

%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Throughout the scandal, Hanes buried its head in the sand. The company ducked the press for a while, at least calls from DailyFinance. Perhaps Charlie Sheen's agent had convinced executives that the story would blow over, or maybe they were just closing their eyes and hoping it would go away. The statement the company released today -- after no doubt many hours of blood, sweat and tears -- was pretty innocuous.

"Hanes is not running the Hanes television commercials featuring Charlie Sheen, and those commercials will not run again," the statement says. "The commercials were suspended effective Dec. 28, the first date possible after Mr. Sheen's Christmas Day arrest. There are a few trade publication print advertisements featuring Mr. Sheen scheduled to run this spring. Unfortunately, the production schedule[s] of those publications do not allow us to pull those ads. "

Boxers, Briefs and Bad Brand Management

How pathetic. After taking more than two weeks to announce something that was fairly obvious, couldn't Hanes have at least wished the Sheen family well in facing their problems, or said something -- anything -- about the issue of domestic violence? Hanesbrands, which has seen its shares rise more than 85% over the past year, was obviously protecting its bottom line. Perhaps the company was concerned about the reaction in the stock market if it axed Sheen more quickly. Regardless, that's no excuse. As crisis managers, Hanesbrands performed abysmally. The story spiraled out of control while its executives remained silent. That long silence sends the message that Hanesbrands -- which says on its Web site that it has "consciously built a culture of integrity" -- does not take domestic violence seriously.

Hanesbrands has to be concerned that its association with Sheen may have damaged its brand. But what has been left unexamined as this debacle has unfolded is why Hanes hired Sheen in the first place. As I posted before, Sheen has been a real-life Hollywood bad boy for decades. He had a drug problem that was so bad his own father called the cops on him; threatened his ex-wife; was one of the best customers of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss (they had the canceled checks to prove it); and -- everyone's favorite Sheen anecdote -- accidentally shot his own fiance. The creators of Two and a Half Men used Sheen's charmingly roguish reputation as the basis for the character he plays, Charlie Harper.

CBS is standing by the star of its hit comedy, probably because there is too much money at stake from advertiser and syndication fees. A network spokesman did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment. Shooting for his show is going on and, in an article published this week, co-star Jon Cryer told Peoplethat the embattled actor was being a "pro" despite the avalanche of negative publicity.

Until recently, Sheen had bamboozled the press -- and maybe himself -- into believing that he had put his hell-raising days behind him. I hope that he and his wife get help, especially considering there are young children in the picture. Given his background, though, it is baffling why Hanesbrands ever thought he would make a good brand ambassador. At 44, he's a fossil by Hollywood standards. He stars on a sitcom, but he hasn't been a movie star for decades. His credentials for being hip are suspect. Worse still, the scripts for the Jordan commercials had him pursuing the NBA legend like some starry-eyed teenage fan. The joke was that Jordan was too cool to hang out with the actor. Too bad Hanes didn't take the hint.
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