Sportswear giant Nike confirmed Thursday that it had ended its sponsorship of Antonio Brown in the wake of a lawsuit accusing the New England Patriots wide receiver of rape.
“Antonio Brown is not a Nike athlete,” said Sandra Carreon-John, a Nike spokeswoman. She did not respond to questions about what prompted the termination.
Through his lawyer, Brown has denied the allegation. The NFL is investigating and has opted not to suspend Brown while it does.
Brown spoke to reporters after practice Thursday, in his first public comments since the lawsuit was filed. “I’m just here to focus on ball and look forward to get out there in the home stadium with the team,” Brown said.
Nike is the second sponsor Brown has lost following the lawsuit. The helmet manufacturer Xenith ended its contract with Brown last week, only days after signing it.
Nike’s decision comes as a surprise, as the company has in the past continued to sponsor athletes involved in litigation and negative publicity while other brands dropped their support.
Sales of U.S. football products make up a relatively small portion of Nike’s bottom line, and the company has been quicker to dissociate itself from pro football players accused of wrongdoing. In 2014, Nike ended its sponsorship of Ray Rice after TMZ published video of him striking his fiancée in an elevator, as well as its sponsorship of Adrian Peterson after he was charged with child abuse.
But Nike chose to continue its lifetime contract with Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo, reportedly worth US$1-billion, after he was accused of rape in a lawsuit last year.
“We don’t get into specifics of sports marketing relationships,” Mitch Germann, a Nike spokesman, responded when asked how the decision was made to end Brown’s contract but not Ronaldo’s.
The athletic company also has stood by athletes accused of less-serious wrongdoings that still became public relations nightmares.
Nike continued its deal with Tiger Woods even after his serial infidelity exploded into public view in 2009. The company continued sponsoring Lance Armstrong as evidence mounted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, only dropping his contract in 2012.
This content appears as provided to The Globe by the originating wire service. It has not been edited by Globe staff.