Nike is suspending endorsement of NFL star Deshaun Watson on allegations of sexual misconduct

Deshaun Watson # 4 of the Houston Texans takes the ball as Justin Houston # 50 of the Indianapolis Colts tries the tackle during the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Michael Hickey | Getty Images

Nike has suspended the approval of Houston Texan quarterback Deshaun Watson, the company told CNBC on Wednesday.

“We are deeply concerned about the worrying allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson. We will continue to monitor the situation closely,” Nike said in a statement

The first woman to accuse Watson of sexual misconduct while receiving private massages spoke publicly on Tuesday. Ashley Solis said she was suffering from “panic attacks, anxiety and depression” due to Watson’s alleged sexual assault in March 2020. She called for Watson to be held accountable for his alleged behavior.

Watson and attorney Rusty Hardin have denied allegations that the allegations result from a failed blackmail attempt. The National Football League quarterback was charged with sexual misconduct in lawsuits brought by 22 women, all represented by Attorney Tony Buzbee.

And on April 2, the Houston Police Department tweeted that they had opened a criminal investigation after a complaint was filed against Watson. With its problems out of the field, Watson’s other supporters like Apple’s Beats by Dre brand may have to react soon. A Beats by Dre representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If Nike reacts, other brands may have to react, even partially, soon as allegations against the soccer star escalate.

“Brands are in a tough spot right now,” said Scott Rosner, academic director of the sports management program at Columbia University. “There will clearly be public pressure, as is normally the case in such cases, to formally distance oneself from the athlete. And some likely will. Others will make a statement expressing their concern but their beliefs to reaffirm the legal process. “

Will the race matter?

Rosner, an expert on brand strategies, agreed to comparing Watson’s problems with former NFL star Michael Vick and current Pittsburgh Steelers star Ben Roethlisberger.

All top-notch NFL quarterbacks in their prime but injured by legal issues off the field. But brands reacted differently.

In Vick’s case, he pleaded guilty and was convicted of his crimes; Therefore, the endorsers dropped him. But Roethlisberger was charged twice with sexual misconduct in 2009 and 2010. In either case, he was never charged and settled with the victim who accused him of rape allegations.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger # 7 passes the ball in the first quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field on December 27, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Joe Sargent | Getty Images

But brands, including Nike, stayed with Roethlisberger despite the allegations. Roethlisberger was banned from four games for violating the NFL’s personal code of conduct, which Watson could face even if he avoids criminal charges.

“It’s a fair and fair question,” Rosner said that the race plays a role in determining Watson’s situation with brands.

“It’s hard to know what impact the race will have in this particular case or in Roethlisberger’s case,” added Rosner. “But in general I think we can say that race is typically a factor, whether consciously or unconsciously. There is an obvious difference between the two cases. We shall see if this leads to any different treatment.”

Marketability damaged?

25-year-old Watson is set to earn $ 10 million for the coming season. Starting in 2022, he signed a four-year extension worth $ 156 million ($ 73 million guaranteed) and increased his salary to $ 35 million that season. He is represented by the Athletes First agency.

But whether he will be in Houston is the question. Watson asked the team for a deal before his legal troubles began. Rosner said brands need to take this into account as well.

Like Roethlisberger, brands that are leaving could open doors to competition if Watson overcomes bad advertising and sold more attractively to an NFL club with a larger market.

“The difficulty with dropping – you get points immediately in public opinion court, but if the allegations prove untrue or if they are unfounded, a competitor is likely to step in and sign the athlete to close a deal. You quit.” So there is a certain risk involved, “said Rosner.

But Watson’s marketability has taken a hit. And in a social media climate, Rosner said brands that want to endorse Watson should be concerned about moving forward.

“As a brand, I would have some concerns about continuing the relationship,” said Rosner. “But at least you break any kind of relationship and come out with a strong comment – at least.”

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