Scroll To Top
World

Hello Olivia,
Goodbye Rainbow

Hello Olivia,
Goodbye Rainbow

940_martina

Is The L Word really why Martina Navratilova parted ways with the Rainbow Card and signed on with Olivia Cruises?

You know it's messy when no one will talk. "I don't want to get into that," says Martina Navratilova of her lawsuit against Do Tell, the company she formed in 1995 with Pam Derderian and Nancy Becker. The prominent entrepreneurial couple are similarly tight-lipped. But the court papers say plenty. In a federal complaint filed March 9, Navratilova charges the firm, which markets the Rainbow Card credit card, with "willfully and maliciously" causing her "irreparable harm...damag[ing] Navratilova's business reputation and good will" and "receiv[ing] a financial benefit at [her] expense." Derderian and Becker fire back that Navratilova "acted with an evil motive or a reckless indifference to the rights of Do Tell," threatened to "shut down the Rainbow Card," and even pressured Subaru, her high-profile corporate sponsor, to abandon the company. Stranger yet, they claim that Toni Layton-Lambert, whom court papers identify as Navratilova's companion, "referred to Derderian as a 'f---ing a--' and threatened to tear apart Do Tell." Strangest of all, Derderian and Becker claim the breach was caused by a disagreement about Showtime's The L Word. Still more astonishing is the timing of the conflict. On March 23, Navratilova launched an endorsement deal with travel company Olivia. One of Olivia's cruises served as the locale for the April 24 episode of none other than The L Word. Taken together, these events mark the most unusual twist yet in an already storied endorsement career. In a field whose top female athletes are among the highest-paid endorsers in the world, according to Paul Fein, author of Tennis Confidential: Today's Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies, Navratilova has famously suffered for her frankness about her sexuality. "She had no corporate endorsements in 1992 other than for tennis rackets, shoes, and clothing, and that's because she was gay," Fein says. Though the tide has turned somewhat in recent years, Navratilova is clearly elated by the Olivia contract precisely because it runs counter to the usual pattern. "It's an amazing thing to actually get an endorsement because I'm a lesbian, rather than not get one because I'm a lesbian," she says. This sentiment helps to explain what will doubtless come as an unprecedented windfall for Olivia. With annual revenues of just $14 million in 2004, according to CEO Amy Errett, the decades-old stalwart of the lesbian world is a far cry from Subaru. Olivia declined to reveal the financial details, but Errett notes that the company's social mission made the arrangement possible. "The financial contribution that we've made [to Navratilova] has been important, and we're proud to be a gay company that is profitable and can do these things, but it isn't just about the money," she says. "It's been delightful to work together because we share the same mission and values. [Navratilova] has been out there about who she is, she's been very comfortable with that and has taken the risks that come with that, and we've been a company that's been serving this community for 32 years and has never wavered from our mission for the lesbian community." Last year Olivia's mission also helped attract another prominent athlete: Rosie Jones, who's won 13 tournaments as a Ladies Professional Golf Association member. Jones, who came out in a New York Times guest column when she signed with Olivia in March 2004, says she's watched the environment improve dramatically for gay athletes in recent years. "Ten years ago they were still telling us, 'If they ask about homosexuality, just shy away from that. Start talking about golf again. Don't let them talk to you about [your] personal life,' " says Jones, who renewed her Olivia contract in March. "We were really good at brushing it under the rug." Although Jones led the way, it still represents a historic step for an athlete of Navratilova's stature to commit to a lesbian-owned and -operated company. Both athletes attribute their decisions to Olivia's stellar reputation and the persuasive powers of Errett and Olivia founder Judy Dlugacz.

"When they called me up, I [was] like, 'Why not?' " Navratilova says. "I really like what they do. I've known of them for a long time, and I like their philosophy and their mission. It's a perfect fit." She adds that they didn't even quibble much over the financial terms: "It was pretty quick. There wasn't much wheeling and dealing; it was like, 'You want me, I want you.' " All this mutual goodwill stands in stark contrast to the allegations in the Do Tell case. Navratilova claims it's simply a matter of business--she disagreed with the way the card was being marketed and told Do Tell to stop using her name. Although the Do Tell lawsuit was filed almost simultaneously with the announcement of her deal with Olivia, it's not clear whether the two relationships conflicted: The Do Tell court documents don't say whether Navratilova had an exclusivity agreement with the company, and Olivia wouldn't comment on whether any such clause existed in its contract either. (Navratilova currently has endorsement deals with Under Armour clothing and Juiceman products. She is no longer under contract with Subaru, though the company continues to sponsor the Rainbow Card.) Whatever her reasons for the decision, she insists, it was hers to make. "It's all about business for me. Pam [Derderian] has made it a personal thing, but it's all a business deal," she says. "It's all about protecting my name and image--which I thought I had a right to, but she thought otherwise." Do Tell counters that Navratilova had no right to withdraw her name and that doing so has cost the company more than $150,000. Derderian and Becker are asking for damages of at least that amount, plus punitive damages and legal fees. Though declining to discuss the details of the case, Derderian objects to Navratilova's claim that she's personalized the conflict. "I'm passionate about my work, I'm passionate about what I do on a daily basis, and I'm passionate about what we've created for our community," Derderian says. The lawsuit is a jarring end to a relationship that was driven as much by affection as by business. Navratilova even served as godmother to Derderian and Becker's daughter. Just over two years ago Navratilova recommitted her support to the Rainbow Card, predicting that its affinity program with the Rainbow Endowment would continue to raise funds "through the later part of the decade." Today, Navratilova wants nothing more to do with the company, the card--or Derderian and Becker. "There is no friendship," she says flatly. One thing both parties agree on is their disagreement over The L Word. In its court filing, Do Tell claims it has explored cross-promotional opportunities with the show since it debuted in 2004. Navratilova approved of this association at first, court documents claim, but reversed her position in January because she had decided the show was "depraved." Though the show wasn't mentioned in her court complaint, Navratilova readily admits she disapproves of it and that this disapproval was one reason she broke with Do Tell. "It started out great. I thought it was going to be a great show, and I was really enthusiastic about it, but I've taken it off TiVo," she says. "I think it's become really dysfunctional." In fact, she adds, the show has become an embarrassment to lesbians. "It's all about sex, sex, sex. There's not one monogamous relationship there; there's not one woman there that I would want to point [out] to somebody and say, 'This is a great representation of lesbians,' " she says. "There's not one. It's a bad representation of us to the world. If a straight person watches it, they're going to go, 'Oh, my God, do they really do this?' And I'm going to say, 'No, I don't, it's just a show.' I wanted in no way, shape, or form to be associated with the show. It's not something I want my mother to watch." Showtime had no response to her comments. But Michael McCann, a professor at Mississippi College School of Law who has written about sports law, says Navratilova's distaste for the show might not provide a legal justification to bow out of Do Tell. "Her claim seems to be a matter of opinion," he says. "There's nothing wrong with the show; it hasn't done anything wrong. If her primary objection is 'I don't like this show, I don't want to be associated with it,' the only way she could get out of the deal is if [the contract specified], 'If we're going to [market with] a television show, we have to get permission from you.' I'm skeptical that such a clause exists in the contract."

McCann adds that the court dispute might indicate that the three friends didn't think ahead when they drew up the original agreement. "There should be some type of predictable mechanism within the contract that would enable the athlete to get out under changed circumstances. In this case it appears that, for whatever reason, the contract didn't contemplate a change," he says. "Usually there's some type of language that enables them to get out when it's in their financial interest to do so." Her legal troubles haven't soured Navratilova's enthusiasm for her latest endorsement deal. She doesn't even mind Olivia's recent tie-in with The L Word, saying, "I'm not going to tell them how to do their business. I'm only endorsing Olivia, not The L Word." Dlugacz and Errett, meanwhile, defend their connection with the show. "Personally, I'm just glad that a show like The L Word exists," Dlugacz says. "For years and years and years and years, the industry stayed away from any kind of show that spoke about lesbian life. Here's a first, groundbreaking effort by some really wonderful people." "It's been important to us to show a wide variety of who lesbians are," Errett says. "I think this particular episode does that and does it really, really well." As for Navratilova's opinion, Errett says, "I don't actually know Martina's viewpoint of the show." Navratilova plans to make her mark on Olivia in other ways. Her duties as an endorser won't exactly be onerous--she'll wear the Olivia logo on her clothing, make personal appearances, and be featured in advertising--but she does plan to spearhead new fitness programs on the company's trips. "I'm sure we will incorporate some of my ideas of staying fit and being healthy into the cruises," she says. "And the lesbian population does need help with that. Lesbians as a whole are more prone to be overweight than the general population, especially once you get into the high 40s and 50s--and the median age for women that go on these cruises is 46." She will also share her muscle-building wisdom in a forthcoming book, The Shape of Your Life, due out from Rodale in winter 2006. Meanwhile, says Navratilova, Olivia has also had a (small) impact on her own physical regimen: At a recent party in Miami, she got up and danced. "There were about 300 women there, and they had a blast. I even ended up dancing," she says. "Usually I'm too self-conscious. I have to have a couple of beers. I think I've gone to a club about 10 times in my whole life. It was really great to see these women feeling really safe in their environment, feeling free to be themselves." Lehoczky has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Salon.com.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Etelka Lehoczky