With a bank vault full of medals from prestigious international competitions and a squeaky-clean image, Simone Biles is a marketer’s dream. So, it’s more than a little ironic that an endorsement for Uber Eats has the four-time Olympics champion embroiled in a rare controversy.
Simone Biles has had an amazing gymnastics career
With a combined 30 medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and assorted World Championships, 23-year-old Simone Biles is one successful major meet away from passing Russia’s Larisa Latynina (32 medals) as the most accomplished female gymnast ever.
Her triumph in Rio de Janeiro made Biles the first gymnast in two decades to hold the all-around titles from the Olympics and the World Championships simultaneously. When she followed with all-around crowns at the World Championships in 2018 and ’19, observers arrived at a consensus that she is the greatest gymnast of all time.
Naturally, all that success in a sport that draws huge Olympics TV ratings has translated into lucrative endorsements, beginning with Nike in 2015. After helping the United States to the team gold at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 and winning the all-around, vault, and floor exercise, Biles snagged major deals with United Airlines, Proctor & Gamble, Hershey, and Beats by Dre.
Simone Biles has One Million Moms angry with her
Though it has been around since 2014, Uber Eats didn’t really begin to hit its stride until the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country early in 2020. The food delivery service prospered as restaurants in many states stopped serving dine-in meals.
That proved to be a lifeline for Uber contractors, whose passenger fares dropped dramatically while entertainment venues and sports arenas were shuttered, and the need for rides to and from airports also plummeted.
With restrictions gradually easing over the summer and early fall to allow restaurants to operate with limited capacities, Uber Eats has launched an ad campaign to maintain its slice of the delivery business.
Uber Eats commercials starring Olympics hero Simone Biles and hairdresser Jonathan Van Ness, featured in Queer Eye on Netflix since 2018, began appearing on television in October 2020.
One of the ads opens with Biles executing a tumbling run in the gym and announcing, “Tonight, I’ll be eating cheesy cauliflower pizza with extra broccolini.” Van Ness then walks in while wearing a similar leotard and announces he’s ordering the same meal.
Though seemingly innocuous, the commercial has drawn the wrath of a Christian group named One Million Moms, which is an offshoot of the American Family Association. The AFA has taken on pornography, abortion, and groups supporting LGBT rights.
The latter is behind the group’s push to have Uber Eats scrap its ads featuring Biles and Van Ness, whom the director of One Million Moms labeled a “cross-dresser.” NBC News reported that One Million Moms has accused Uber Eats of seeking to “brainwash viewers … instead of focusing on providing a helpful service, especially during a pandemic.”
Uber Eats is standing firm for now
One Million Moms has begun a petition campaign asking Uber to remove its new ads, arguing that “supporting the LGBTQ agenda versus remaining neutral in the culture war is just bad business.”
The One Million Moms organization protesting against Uber Eats commercials featuring Olympics sensation Simone Biles and Queer Eye cast member Jonathan Van Ness is tied to the American Family Association, which has had some success with boycotts beginning in 1986 when 7-Eleven relented and pulled adult magazines from its racks.
More recently, the American Family Association launched a boycott against Target stores in April 2016 following the retailer’s announcement encouraging employees and customers to use the restrooms or fitting rooms corresponding to their gender identity.
For its part, Uber issued a statement affirming its support for Biles and Van Ness.
“At Uber Eats, we’re unapologetically committed to representing the flavor spectrum,” a spokesperson told NBC News. “From tacos to talent, we like it spicy. JVN and Simone serve gymnastic prowess and … self-confidence, qualities millions of moms everywhere can — and do — support.”
Biles doubled down this week on Twitter.
“The world we live in makes me sad, but I’d do x1000000 more commercials with you just to piss everyone off!” she wrote. “The LGBTQIA will always have my support and feel welcome on my socials.”