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Sponsors Cut Ties to Clippers Following Owner’s Alleged Racist Remarks

Donald Sterling Clippers Racism
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling at the NBA basketball game between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles on Dec. 27, 2012. Landov

A rapidly growing number of companies are suspending or ending their sponsorships of the Los Angeles Clippers amid widespread fallout over owner Donald Sterling's alleged racist remarks, which they labeled "completely unacceptable" and "offensive"

Updated 5:18 p.m. Eastern

The fallout from Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s alleged racist remarks started to hit the team’s bottom line on Monday, as at least a dozen sponsors said they were jumping ship.

Automaker Mercedes-Benz, used car retailer CarMax, airline Virgin America and the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, Calif. all announced they were ending their sponsorships of the Clippers. “CarMax finds the statements attributed to the Clippers’ owner completely unacceptable,” the company said in a statement Monday. “These views directly conflict with CarMax’s culture of respect for all individuals. While we have been a proud Clippers sponsor for 9 years and support the team, fans and community, these statements necessitate that CarMax end its sponsorship.”

Other companies distanced themselves from the racial controversy now engulfing the Clippers without indicating they were making a permanent break. Automaker Kia is suspending its advertising and sponsorship related to the Clippers indefinitely. “The comments allegedly made by Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, are offensive and reprehensible, and they are inconsistent with our views and values,” the company said in a statement.

Red Bull said in a statement that it is suspending all team-related marketing activities for the time being. The company says it will continue to support the team’s power forward Blake Griffin, with whom it has a sponsorship deal. Sprint, Aquahydrate, LoanMart and Yokohama Tires are also suspending their Clippers marketing.

Insurance company State Farm, meanwhile, is “pausing” its Clippers sponsorship. “The remarks attributed to the Clippers’ owner are offensive,” State Farm said in an emailed statement. “While those involved sort out the facts, we will be taking a pause in our relationship with the organization. We are monitoring the situation and we’ll continually assess our options.”

State Farm’s decision will not affect the “Born to Assist” advertising campaign, which features Clippers point guard Chris Paul portraying a nerdier twin brother, Cliff Paul.

Amtrak said its sponsorship of the Clippers ended with the conclusion of the regular season, but the company will now remove any advertisements that remain in public. “Moving forward, we will continue to monitor the situation as we look to make decisions about 2014-15 sports marketing sponsorships,” Amtrak said in a statement.

Anheuser-Busch, a sponsor for the entire NBA, also condemned Sterling’s alleged remarks. “We are disappointed to hear the alleged recent comments attributed to L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling,” the company said in a statement. “We fully support the NBA’s efforts to investigate quickly and trust that they will take appropriate action.”

After initially saying it was reviewing its relationship with the Clippers, Corona also suspended its sponsorship of the team late Monday. “Like everyone else, Corona is appalled by the comments allegedly made by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers,” a spokeswoman for the brand said an emailed statement. “These comments run counter to the type of brand Corona aspires to be. Because of this, we are suspending our sponsorship agreement with the Clippers until the NBA completes its investigation.

Sterling has been under fire since a recording published over the weekend by TMZ purportedly depicted him criticizing his girlfriend for associating with black people in public, including Magic Johnson. President Barack Obama, Miami Heat star LeBron James and Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan have all spoken out publicly against the comments, and Clippers players staged their own mild protest against Sterling before their playoff game versus the Golden State Warriors on Sunday by wearing their warmup shirts inside out.

Sterling’s representatives have neither confirmed nor denied the authenticity of the audio. The NBA quickly said it would investigate, and the league is set to hold a news conference on Tuesday to make an announcement about its investigation.

“Mr. Sterling is emphatic that what is reflected on that recording is not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings,” the team said in a statement. “It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life. He feels terrible that such sentiments are being attributed to him and apologizes to anyone who might have been hurt by them.”

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