Unraveling the Von Miller-Phil Long Dealerships Clusterf*ck

A screen capture from a 2016 commercial for Phil Long Lincoln starring Von Miller.
A screen capture from a 2016 commercial for Phil Long Lincoln starring Von Miller. Phil Long Lincoln via YouTube
Update: Reports that Colorado Springs-based Phil Long Dealerships sacked Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller by canceling his endorsement agreement with the firm because he took a knee during the national anthem along with more than thirty teammates prior to a September 24 game against the Buffalo Bills were amended when sources came forward to say the pact had actually expired months ago; see our previous coverage below. But the story is more complicated than that. Turns out the Long folks did ask two local TV stations to stop airing ads starring Miller following his demonstration.

Representatives from the dealerships still haven't responded to Westword's request for comment about the situation at this writing. However, the business sent a statement to 9News, one of the two outlets (along with KOAA in Colorado Springs) to reportedly receive a no-Miller-time request. Here it is:
"We are evaluating the events of the weekend. It is important to state that we haven't fired Von. We are in the middle of contract renewal and this weekend's events remind us that sometimes we feel that we best represent ourselves. 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 misinterpreted.

"We, like millions of Americans are concerned and will respond consistently with our values as a proud American company founded by a war hero (Phil Long). While we can't control the actions of others, we can be responsible for how we support our nation and community. That is why, years ago, our principal owner, Jay Cimino, founded the Mount Carmel Veteran's Service center, [which] is supported by all Phil Long Dealerships. We support this cause not just with our words, but financially as well, and it is serving hundreds of veterans in need right here in Colorado. This would be a great time for our community to show support for our military community by supporting this cause or others that continue to serve them after they serve us."
These remarks essentially equate the NFL players' protests (in the wake of President Donald Trump calling any baller who protested during the anthem "a son of a bitch" during an Alabama event last week) with an attack on the U.S. armed services, even though the two are entirely unrelated; the exhibitions began as a way to decry alleged police brutality against people of color. But since the majority of Phil Long's operations are in the Springs, home to the Air Force Academy and plenty of other current and former military members, this take is to be expected. After all, no business wants to take the chance of pissing off a large slice of its customer base.

Which is another way of saying that you shouldn't hold your breath waiting for Miller's contract to be renewed.

By the way, ProgressNow Colorado, a liberal political organization, is cheering Miller and company for their actions, and for defying Trump — and has created a thank-you card for those who agree with their actions to sign. Click to access the card.

Continue for our previous coverage.

click to enlarge Von Miller in a screen capture from one of his ads for Phil Long Dealerships. - PHIL LONG DEALERSHIPS VIA YOUTUBE
Von Miller in a screen capture from one of his ads for Phil Long Dealerships.
Phil Long Dealerships via YouTube
Original post, 12:40 p.m. Monday, September 25:

Editor's note: The original version of this post has been updated to include new information.

Yesterday, September 24, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after jokingly pulling his hand away rather than helping Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor to his feet. Although the penalty was ridiculous, Miller took responsibility for committing a gaffe and suggested that he'd cost his squad the game. Today, however, the costs seemed more personal after reports that Miller had been dropped as a spokesperson for Phil Long Dealerships for joining 31 of his teammates in taking a knee during the national anthem in the wake of President Donald Trump's incendiary tweet suggesting that anyone making this gesture should be fired. But within hours, these claims were disputed.

We've asked for comment from Phil Long Dealerships about this move but have not yet received a response. If and when someone from the company gets back to us, we'll update this post.

The most recent Bronco to lose an endorsement over kneeling during the anthem was Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, a former college teammate of Colin Kaepernick, the onetime San Francisco 49ers QB who started the trend as a way to express concerns about police brutality against people of color.

Afterward, Marshall worked hard to repair his image with politically conservative Broncos fans, as we outlined in the January post "Broncos' Brandon Marshall: From Taking Knee to Aiming at Black Man in Cop Clip."

Miller pretending to help up Tyrod Taylor — a joke that resulted in a costly penalty for the Denver Broncos. - NFL VIA TWITTER
Miller pretending to help up Tyrod Taylor — a joke that resulted in a costly penalty for the Denver Broncos.
NFL via Twitter
Given his status as the Broncos' biggest star, Miller's participation in the most recent group kneel made plenty of headlines. But in the immediate aftermath of Denver's humiliating loss in Buffalo, the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty grabbed the most attention.

"Von, it looked like you were being Von, kind of goofing around with the quarterback, and the ref didn’t see the humor," noted one interrogator during the post-game press conference. "Would you say that was accurate? What did you think of the call?"

"I can’t put my team in situations like that," Miller replied. "I brought us home field many times, I’ve closed games fifty million times. I’ve got to be smarter than that. I’m always on the rookies and all the young guys [about] being smart and doing this and doing that. Then I go out there and do something like that, in a crucial situation in the game, I’ve just got to be better than that. It hits you in the stomach. I haven’t been in situations [like that] since my rookie season. One thing about it, I’m always, regardless, I always learn from my mistakes, I just can’t kill us. I killed the game today with that penalty. I’ve just got to be better than that, and I will be better than that."

On Monday, however, the prospect of a disappearing endorsement deal became the bigger deal, even though the company's most recent spot featuring Miller debuted more than ten months ago. The example we originally shared in this space has been pulled offline, but we found another one:

The idea that the dealership would take action against Miller over the anthem, as originally reported by KOAA-TV, made sense given that the company is based in Colorado Springs, one of the most conservative communities in the state and the country as a whole. Phil Long has eleven affiliated businesses in the Springs, as compared to just one in Denver, plus branches in Trinidad and Raton, New Mexico. But by early afternoon, the Denver Post contradicted the earlier assertions, quoting two sources that said Miller's deal had actually expired in March, and contract negotiations hadn't borne any fruit. At this writing, KOAA's original report is generating an error message.

Whatever the reason for the split, the end of the Phil Long pact will have little impact on Miller's net wealth, which skyrocketed in July 2016 after he signed a six-year, $114 million contract in which $70 million was guaranteed. Moreover, he's the current face of Old Spice, and the spots he's made for the deodorant firm have been so consistently funny that they earned him honorable mention in Westword contributor Teague Bohlen's list of the ten best NFL player commercials.

If Old Spice gives Miller the heave-ho, too, he'd sustain considerably more damage, particularly to his future earning possibilities. Then again, the demonstrations on Sunday were so widespread — entire teams didn't even emerge from their locker rooms until the anthem was over — that it's hard to believe Miller will be singled out for exercising his First Amendment right to peaceful protest.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts