Nike Inc. (NYSE: NKE) has officially suspended its endorsement deal with South African sprint runner Oscar Pistorius after the 26-year-old Paralympic gold medalist was charged with murdering his supermodel girlfriend.
"Nike has suspended its contract with Oscar Pistorius. We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely," the company said in a statement posted on its website late Wednesday.
Pistorius has maintained his innocence in the Valentine’s Day murder of Reeva Steenkamp, claiming that he mistook her for an intruder. He was charged with murder the day after the shooting, CNN reported.
Born without a fibula, or calf bone, in either leg, Pistorius's limbs were amputated below the knee just before he turned one. They were replaced with carbon fiber prosthetic legs, shaped like blades. Besides giving him the ability to walk and run, the legs have become a symbol by which he is recognized. Fans and fellow athletes refer to Pistorius as the “Blade Runner.”
According to CNN, Pistorius had been getting about $2 million annually in endorsement deals from companies such as Nike and eyewear maker Oakley, which has already reportedly suspended its deal with him.
Nike’s move to cut ties with Pistorius appears to be in response to bad public relations for the company, which refers to Pistorius in its ad campaign as "the bullet in the chamber."
While Nike takes a firm position in its recent statement, the tone is a bit different from the one the company released the day of the shooting, which expressed sympathy for its sponsored athlete.
Pistorius first appeared in a 2008 Nike commercial, a spot that also included cyclist Lance Armstrong. Nike ended ties with Armstrong after evidence emerged that he had used performance-enhancing drugs to win seven Tour de France titles.
Nike has been known to stand by its athletes in times of hardship, as the company kept its endorsement deal with Kobe Bryant while he faced sexual assault charges and golfer Tiger Woods during his highly publicized sexual infidelity scandal. The Woods' controversy chased away other major sponsors, including PepsiCo's (NYSE: PEP) Gatorade, General Motors (NYSE: GM) , Procter & Gamble's (NYSE: PG,) Gillette razors and AT&T (NYSE: T).
According to Nike’s most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Beaverton, Ore., company is committed overall to $3.8 billion in future endorsement deals – more than any other sponsorship company.