To Southern celebrity chef Paula Deen, recouping a multibillion-dollar food business after using racial slurs is akin to someone hoping to become to first openly gay NFL player.
Deen, attempting a career comeback after her admission in a 2013 deposition that she used the N-word, likened her ordeal to that of “that black football player,” pro football prospect Michael Sam.
“I feel like ‘embattled’ or ‘disgraced’ will always follow my name. It’s like that black football player who recently came out,” Deen told People magazine. “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.”
Sam, a 260-pound defensive end at the University of Missouri and the Southeastern Conference’s 2013 defensive player of the year, is hoping to be selected by a team in this May’s NFL draft. He announced this month he was gay.
The magazine, due on newstands Friday, comes days after Deen announced, “I am not a quitter,” at the annual South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Miami Beach, where she began an attempted comeback following two major public relations disasters.
In 2012, she was criticized for announcing she had diabetes and a lucrative endorsement deal for a drug to treat the condition she’d until then kept hidden. Then last summer, during a legal dispute with a former employee who accused her of racial discrimination and sexual harassment, she acknowledged having used racial slurs.
Most of her endorsement, book and TV deals fell apart within days.
The Savannah, Ga.-based cook has mostly stayed out of the spotlight, but this month she announced that private investment firm Najafi Companies is investing $75 million to $100 million to help her make a comeback.
In a story preview on People.com, the 67-year-old Deen said she struggled to get out of bed during the nine months after her multimillion-dollar food empire and personal reputation crumbled.
“When I woke up each morning, it was like my world was crashing down again,” the celebrity chef said.