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Fresno Grizzlies lose big-name sponsorship because of Ocasio-Cortez video debacle

A baseball team, patriotism, Ocasio-Cortez and an apology: Here’s what happened

The Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team played a Memorial Day video on its scoreboard May 27, 2019, and later apologized for equating Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with Kim Jung-un and Fidel Castro.
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The Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team played a Memorial Day video on its scoreboard May 27, 2019, and later apologized for equating Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with Kim Jung-un and Fidel Castro.

Sun-Maid, the popular raisin company with deep roots in the central San Joaquin Valley, has terminated its partnership with the Fresno Grizzlies.

Sun-Maid announced its termination Wednesday evening, citing the Grizzlies’ Memorial Day debacle when the minor league baseball club aired a video tribute that equated Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the likes of North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un and former Cuban president Fidel Castro.

“We are deeply disappointed by the Memorial Day tribute video the Fresno Grizzlies aired on Monday,” Sun-Maid said in an email sent to The Bee via public relations agency Havas Formula. “Sun-Maid does not support the views or sentiments expressed in the video, nor does it condone the airing of it.

“While the Grizzlies have apologized for this mistake, we are standing on the side of what we believe is right and terminating our sponsorship of the team.”

The 3 1/2 minute video was shown by the Grizzlies on the video scoreboard between games of Monday’s Memorial Day baseball doubleheader at Chukchansi Park.

Called a “Memorial Day Tribute — We Are Americans,” the video is mostly filled with patriotic-themed images playing behind excerpts from the first inaugural speech by President Ronald Reagan.

But at about three minutes, the video shows a photo montage starting with an Antifa member, followed by the North Korean leader Kim and then Ocasio-Cortez, whose image is followed by a photo of Castro, the late Cuban leader.

The images appear during the part of Reagan’s speech when he says, “As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries ...”

Grizzlies President Derek Franks apologized and said the video error occurred because the incorrect tribute video was downloaded, and no one from its front office watched the tribute to its entirety before its airing.

Nonetheless, the Grizzlies — in their first season as the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals — received quite the backlash from those in the Fresno community, as well as national criticism.

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t specifically call out the Grizzlies in her response to the video, but said such incidents create threats to her safety.

Earlier Wednesday, the Grizzlies announced it had reprimanded the employee responsible for selecting the incorrect Memorial Day video tribute.

The organization also apologized again for showing the video in what they called a “grievous error.”

Franks said the unnamed employee wasn’t trying to promote a political ideology and that their organization chose to move forward this way “because of the person’s standing in the organization.”

Chicago transplant Harry Overly, the new CEO and president of Sun-Maid, brings new leadership to the iconic raisin brand founded in 1912.

Though it’s unclear how long the company has been a sponsor with the Grizzlies, Sun-Maid has had signage inside Chukchansi Park for some time.

Most notably, a Sun-Maid sign was prominently displayed on a red barn in the “Ag Zone,” which once was located beyond left field.

The red barn, along with the Sun-Maid sign, was relocated this season after offseason renovations of the downtown stadium were completed.

Sun-Maid was no longer listed as of Wednesday night among the Grizzlies’ sponsors, who often contribute monetarily to the baseball franchise, though not as much as its corporate partners or major partners.

The Grizzlies list their corporate partners as: Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, Jack in the Box, Le Provence, Mercury Insurance and Tecate.

The Grizzlies list their major partners as: Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, Community Medical Centers, Dos Equis, Farm Credit, Gar Tootelian, KY Farming and Toyota.

The baseball club’s sponsors still listed are: The Fresno Bee, Tecate and Coca-Cola.

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Bryant-Jon Anteola is a multimedia reporter for The Fresno Bee, writing stories and producing videos about sports, news and random topics relatable to those in the Fresno area. He’s won a McClatchy President’s Award and received honorable mention by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He enjoys sports because of the competition, camaraderie and energy, and views sports as a microcosm of society.

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