Marketing Bootcamp

Maria Sharapova and 6 Athletes Who Lost Their Nike Endorsements

Maria Sharapova and 6 Athletes Who Lost Their Nike Endorsements

Maria Sharapova

When it comes to its reputation, Nike doesn’t play games.

Nike suspended its relationship, pending an investigation, with five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova after she announced on March 7 that she testing positive for meldonium, a heart medication that can boost athletic performance. The sportswear company has been involved with Sharapova since she was 11.

Sharapova is far from the first spokesman to be dropped by Nike. Check out our list of six other athletes who lost their endorsement deals for bad behavior.

1. Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius, the first round of the 400 m at the London 2012 Olympic Games

The South African paralympic runner inspired millions when he competed in sprint events at the 2012 Summer Olympics on two prosthetic legs, and so a partnership with Nike was a natural fit. Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. On Valentine’s Day 2013, the double-amputee shot and killed his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, after an argument.

Nike promptly dropped its endorsement deal with Pistorius, thereby sprinting from the controversy.

Related: How to Win Celebrity Endorsements. (Hint: It's Not About the Money.)

2. Ray Rice

Nike is the official apparel provider for the National Football League, but that didn’t stop the company from severing ties with NFL star Ray Rice. The former running back for the Baltimore Ravens lost his endorsement deal when he was caught on tape abusing his then-fiancee.

3. Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sete, taking over the Yellow Jersey at Grand Prix Midi Libre 2002

After it was proven that the champion cyclist’s victories were due, at least in part, to illegal doping, Nike had this to say:

“Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner.”

Though the company originally said it would continue to support Livestrong, the charity Armstrong founded, it would go on to drop that partnership as well.  

4. Jon Jones

Initially, the word was that the martial arts fighter lost his contract with Nike after a brawl -- outside the ring -- with Daniel Cormier at a press event. Jones has since explained that he chose to end his contract with the company when he was told Nike would be distancing itself from mixed martial arts. “It was a mutual thing,” he said.

5. Michael Vick

Michael Vick in a locker room interview following the New York Jets Vs. Philadelphia Eagles preseason game on September 3, 2009

Nike inked a deal with Michael Vick in 2001, very early in the quarterback’s professional career. Six years later, when Vick was convicted for participating in an illegal dog fighting ring, Nike released him from his contract. After serving a prison sentence and returning to the NFL, Nike entered into another agreement with Vick in 2011.

“Michael acknowledges his past mistakes,” Nike said at the time. “We do not condone those actions, but we support the positive changes he has made to better himself off the field.”

6. Manny Pacquiao

The athletics company recently ended its relationship with Manny Pacquiao, following the boxer’s homophobic comments on Philippine television. In a statement, Nike said it found his statements “abhorrent.”

(Dis)Honorable Mention: Johnny Manziel

On the field, Manziel is a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Off the field, his antics get him into trouble. After his marketing company and his agent both dropped him for his partying ways, his team had him sit out of week 17’s game. Rumor has it Nike may soon cut ties, too.

Related: From Subway's Jared to Bill Cosby: How Do You Make Hiring a Spokesperson Worth the Risk?

Edition: December 2016

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