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Second high-profile sponsor cuts ties with Grizzlies over Ocasio-Cortez video fiasco

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.

Heineken International, which owns Dos Equis and Tecate beer, late on Thursday confirmed it has pulled its sponsorships for those brands from the Fresno Grizzlies over an inflammatory video shown during a doubleheader on Memorial Day.

Dos Equis tweeted the announcement Thursday afternoon.

Heineken International also confirmed to The Bee via email it had ended its relationship with the Grizzlies.

“Both Tecate and Dos Equis were sponsors of the Fresno Grizzlies,” said spokesperson Thomas Hunt. “We do not support those views expressed in the video, that was aired during the Fresno Grizzlies game on Memorial Day. For that reason, we have ended this relationship, effective immediately and have let the team know of our decision.”

Heineken International declined to disclose the value of the sponsorships.

The decision comes one day after Sun-Maid Growers ended its corporate sponsorship with the Grizzlies, the Washington Nationals’ Triple A affiliate.

The Grizzlies have generated national headlines for airing a video tribute that includes a montage of images equating Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the likes of North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un and former Cuban president Fidel Castro.

Sun-Maid was the first big-name sponsor to sever ties with the Grizzlies after the video.

“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.”

Other corporate sponsors are sticking with the team, for now. And its parent ball club, the Washington Nationals, is satisfied with the Grizzlies apology, despite calls for them to intervene.

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell chastised the Grizzlies for what he called an “incitement to hate.” He urged the Grizzlies to fire the employee responsible, and said that if they don’t the Nationals should intervene.

In a statement on Wednesday, Grizzlies president Derek Franks said the employee was reprimanded, but he declined to say what the punishment was.

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

Jennifer Giglio, vice president of communications for the Nationals, said organization officials have spoken with the Grizzlies about the issue and were waiting to comment, once the Grizzlies completed their investigation.

“Based on their investigation, it is clear to us that this was an honest mistake by a long-time employee and was not politically motivated,” Giglio said. “They have put processes in place to ensure it does not happen again and we are comfortable with those procedures.”

Several corporate sponsors said Thursday that while the incident was unfortunate, they don’t plan to end their relationship.

Victoria Castro, spokeswoman for Save Mart stores, said this about the incident: “The video aired at Monday night’s Grizzlies game was inappropriate and does not reflect the views of The Save Mart Companies.

“At this point we have not made any changes to our relationship with the Grizzlies, as we seek more information on what occurred.”

One of the Grizzlies’ biggest agriculture sponsors is GAR Tootelian. Its president, Greg Musson, said he is sticking by the team. “Sounds to me like they made an honest mistake and they apologized,” Musson said.

“The Major League Baseball and their Wild About Reading program have thrilled children up and down this valley for many, many years. GAR has no intention of abandoning a good, long time friend over one mistake.”

Longtime sponsor The Fresno Bee is still looking at possible options.

Publisher Tim Ritchey said the Grizzlies “have been an incredible force for good in this community” and The Bee has been a sponsor for over 20 years.

“But this unfortunate error is significant and the future of our sponsorship will be determined as we learn more,” Ritchey said.

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