Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Did Nike Drop Maria Sharapova So Quickly?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Did Nike Drop Maria Sharapova So Quickly?

Article excerpt

Several companies dropped their sponsorships with the speed of a strong back-hand after one of the world's most successful female athletes Maria Sharapova announced she failed a drug test.

On Monday, the tennis star acknowledged she was taking a performance-enhancing drug during a Jan. 26 drug test at the Australian Open, Sports Illustrated reported. Ms. Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, which was added to the banned substances list on January 1. Sharapova claims that she has been prescribed the drug by her doctor since 2006.

Many of those awaiting the announcement had assumed she would announce her retirement after an injury forced her to withdraw from a recent competition in Palm Springs.

"I know many of you thought I would be retiring today, but if I was ever going to announce my retirement, it would probably not be in a downtown LA hotel with this ugly carpet," she said in a press conference, looking down at the floor.

Nike was quick to cut ties with the star, who the sportswear company has sponsored since she was 11 years old, perhaps remembering the public backlash that has accompanied its earlier attempts to stay loyal to controversial athletes who dabbled in performance-enhancing drugs.

"We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova," Nike said in a statement, according to Forbes. "We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation."

Companies have learned to respond more nimbly to scandal than they did even five years ago because of the quickening media climate, the BBC reported.

Nike, in particular, has become "proactive" about severing ties with athletes who appear likely to hurt its image after scandals impacted the company adversely. It has been "burned by a lot of athletes over the years, and growing impatient with putting so much investment behind athletes that potentially comes back to bite them in the court of public opinion," Paul Swangaurd, from the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, told the BBC. …

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