By Joshua Robinson and Khadeeja Safdar
Neymar and his father fired back at Nike Inc. on Friday,
disputing the sportswear giant's reason for the ending of the
soccer star's endorsement deal and denying a Nike employee's
allegation of a sexual assault.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Nike ended its
endorsement deal with the Brazilian superstar after he refused to
cooperate with a company investigation into a female employee's
allegation that he had sexually assaulted her during a 2016
publicity tour in New York.
"Nike ended its relationship with the athlete because he refused
to cooperate in a good faith investigation of credible allegations
of wrongdoing by an employee," said Hilary Krane, Nike's general
counsel, in response to questions from the Journal.
Neymar, whose full name is Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., denied
the sexual-assault allegation. On Friday, he said Nike's general
counsel had "improperly and irresponsibly" discussed the reason for
the termination of the endorsement deal. Neymar said the agreement
ended for commercial reasons.
"Despite all the reported untruths, we will not present, for the
time being, the documents that reveal the form of termination of
the contract, for obvious reasons of strict secrecy and
confidentiality," his management company wrote in a message
published across the player's social media accounts.
In a statement late Thursday, Nike confirmed the Journal's
account of what happened: That an employee alleged a sexual assault
occurred in 2016, that she filed a complaint in 2018, that Nike in
2019 started an investigation and, in 2020, ended its relationship
with Neymar because he refused to cooperate with the probe.
Nike said it was "deeply disturbed" by the employee's
allegation. "The investigation was inconclusive," Nike said. "We
continue to respect the confidentiality of this employee and also
recognize that this has been a long and difficult experience for
Nike in 2019 hired Cooley LLP, a law firm, to conduct an
independent investigation of the allegation, the Journal reported.
Cooley lawyers conducted interviews with witnesses, including Nike
employees, the Journal reported. Representatives for Neymar
disputed the woman's account during the Cooley probe but the
athlete himself refused to be interviewed by Nike's investigators,
the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the probe and
In its statement, Neymar's management company said, "Regarding
the accusations, there is nothing to add because the Athlete
Neymar, during these five years, was never directly accused and
prosecuted by the Nike employee."
Neymar's father, Neymar Sr., told the Brazilian newspaper Folha
de São Paulo that Nike was attempting to "blackmail" his son.
"We were surprised by something that happened in 2016, that no
one remembered this fact anymore. It's very strange all this now,"
the paper reported Neymar Sr. as saying. "Neymar doesn't even know
this girl. Of course it came from Nike after our departure."
"If Nike wants blackmail, let's go after Nike then," he
A Nike spokeswoman declined to comment on Neymar Sr.'s
Several of Neymar's sponsors including Puma SE, PokerStars and
Epic Games Inc., the maker of the "Fortnite" videogame, declined to
comment on the matter. "Neymar has been a friend of Red Bull since
2010. It is a matter for the public authorities to determine the
facts behind these very serious allegations," said a representative
of Red Bull GmbH, a maker of energy drinks.
Neymar's team, Paris Saint-Germain, didn't respond to multiple
requests for comment Friday. The situation has now left the French
club in a jam between its highest-paid player and Nike, a sponsor
with whom it has had a relationship for decades.
PSG has been one of Nike's most visible soccer properties since
the 1990s and most recently renewed its agreement in 2019, one year
after the allegations against Neymar first surfaced internally at
Nike. The current contract runs until 2032.
Even in an intensely crowded market, Nike's approach in Paris
stands out. Nike has sought in recent years to position the club
not only in the world of sports apparel but also as a lifestyle
brand. PSG gear has appeared on the shoulders of Justin Timberlake,
Rihanna, and Beyoncé, while the team itself plays its prestigious
Champions League matches in Nike's Jordan Brand jerseys.
Neymar, with his global appeal and massive following, was the
perfect crossover ambassador. When he signed a contract extension
earlier this month to remain in Paris until 2025, the club backed
by an arm of Qatar's sovereign-wealth fund was in part tying its
own identity to the 29-year-old.
"The first factor is happiness," Neymar, who also appears in ad
campaigns for Qatar Airways and Qatar National Bank, said at the
time. "The joy of being part of this squad, of the team, of Paris
Saint-Germain, the club."
Neymar is currently in Brazil at a training camp with the
national team as it prepares to play qualifying matches for the
2022 World Cup.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 28, 2021 16:22 ET (20:22 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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