Paula Deen just can’t help herself it seems. Just weeks after announcing her $75 million dollar partnership with Najafi Cos to relaunch her brand, the celebrity chef has fumbled again.
In an interview with People magazine this week Paula shares the challenges of rebuilding her career and reputation. Last year her empire crumbled after her admitted use of the ‘N”-word (once or twice a long time ago) prompted several of her sponsors to abandon her brand.
Deen says, “I’m fighting to get my name back,” and draws an unlikely comparison between herself and “that black football player” who just came out. Of course, she’s referring to Michael Sam, who is poised to become the first openly gay active player in the NFL if he gets picked up in the draft this spring. And, of course, that is a false equivalency.
“I feel like ‘embattled’ or ‘disgraced’ will always follow my name. It’s like that black football player who recently came out. He said, ‘I just want to be known as a football player. I don’t want to be known as a gay football player.’ I know exactly what he’s saying.”
Does she mean to equate homosexuality with racism? Probably not, but that’s what she did.
Michael Sam said recently at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, “I just wish you guys will see me as Michael Sam the football player instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.” A respectable request considering the personal matter of his sexual orientation has nothing to do with the professional matter of how well he plays the game. The only reason he made it an issue was to preemptively challenge the culture of homophobia in the NFL.
Paula Deen wants to distance herself from her disgrace and get back to the business of celebrity chef-ing. The problem with that is her business is built on her brand, the foundation of which is Paula Deen herself. If her personal character is compromised then her brand suffers, and rightly so. That’s the risk of being your own product.
More importantly, the distinction should be made that making a racist comment is not the same as being gay. One is a choice and one is not. Paula Deen is probably not prejudiced in a hateful way, but her world view is certainly racist. The reference to Michael Sam (even if she couldn’t remember his name) as “that black football player” is casually racist. Even her explanation of how the south isn’t racist, is actually quite racist and these are character defining choices that she continues to make.
If Deen wants to be known professionally for something other than being a racist cooking personality then she needs to make different choices. Like stop making racist comments for instance.