"To the gay community, I apologize," stated boxer Manny Pacquiao in an interview with Mario Lopez on Extra that aired today. "I'm against same-sex marriage, but I'm not condemning you. My favorite verse is 'Love one another as you love yourself. Love your neighbor.' So I love everybody!"
That's Pacquiao, a national icon in the Philippines and one of Hennessy’s “Wild Rabbit” campaign stars, extricating himself from the hot water he landed in this week, just as he strives to change his image from indulging in cockfighting, drinking and womanizing. (His Hennessy commercial’s tagline: ''Fighting the fights that really matter. That's my 'Wild Rabbit.'")
The controversy erupted after a profile on him published May 12th in the National Conservative Examiner referenced the oft-cited Biblical passage from Leviticus 20:13, "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death.”
Pacquiao subsequently clarified that readers had erroneously believed he had quoted the verse, and that he loves and supports gays and lesbians, denounces anti-gay allegations, but does not approve of gay marriage because of his Roman Catholic beliefs.
Pacquiao added that he attends Mass before his fights, having recently embraced Catholicism after marital troubles and taken up Bible study. Since speaking out to clarify the interview, the uproar appears to have subsided.
"I'm not against the gay people. I'm not condemning them. ... I have a cousin (who is) gay. I have relatives (who are) gay. I have a lot of friends (who are) gay, so I'm not condemning gays. What I said is I'm not in favor of same-sex marriage. That's the one thing I said to the guy. I told (the reporter) I'm against same-sex marriage," Pacquiao stated. "He said, 'Why?' I said, 'It's the law of God.' That's all I said."
As soon as the news broke, Pacquiao was been banned from Los Angeles’ mall, The Grove, where shows like "Extra" are filmed (so his interview with Lopez was taped at his home instead).
Pacquiao trended on Twitter after the story went viral, and an online petition at change.org popped up encouraging sponsor Nike to drop Pacquiao received 4,868 signatures b— efore it was suspended after clarification that Pacquiao didn't cite the Bible passage. A separate petition challenged Nike, "Do not tarnish your brand. Stand with millions of LGBT and fair minded-people the world over. Drop Manny Pacquiao now."
Other sponsors of the top-ranked multi-millionaire boxer include HP, McDonald’s, San Miguel beer, Custom Vehicle Wraps, State Street Produce (which created a “Pacquiao Produce” line), and media outlets like HBO that make millions on his fights.
According to Forbes, Pacquiao is one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, taking in $40 million in 2009, $42 million in 2010, and $25 million in 2011.
“While there are many details that remain unclear, what is clear is that boxer Manny Pacquiao has attacked the President of the United States and all homosexuals, along with the institution of marriage, in a biblically-based anti-gay screed,” writes The New Civil Rights Movement. “As both a highly-paid representative of Nike, Hewlett-Packard, McDonald’s, Moet-Hennessy, San Miguel Beer, and other well-known international brands, as well as an elected representative of the good people of The Phillippines, Pacquiao has behaved in an unacceptable manner.”
Hennessy’s "Wild Rabbit” campaign features Pacquiao, Erykah Badu and Martin Scorsese, and centers on pushing the limits of one's potential.
"What makes these individuals special is that they are always striving to grow and evolve and reach new levels of achievement," said Rodney Williams, SVP of Moet Hennessy USA, in announcing the "Never Stop. Never Settle" campaign last month. "In championing their stories, we endeavor to tell Hennessy's story and empower our consumers in their own chase."
Nowadays, of course, consumers are empowered (and emboldened) by the social web to share their thoughts, lobby for change and have a direct line to corporate communications and the CEO's office to protest actions — even as said actions are rattling through that echo chamber.