Newspaper article International New York Times

Sponsors Back Away Quickly after Sharapova Admits She Failed Drug Test

Newspaper article International New York Times

Sponsors Back Away Quickly after Sharapova Admits She Failed Drug Test

Article excerpt

In suspending their ties with the tennis star, Nike and other companies acted faster than other sponsors had in similar circumstances.

The announcement by the tennis star Maria Sharapova on Monday that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open was shocking. But perhaps more surprising was how quickly some of her sponsors turned their backs on her.

Just hours after Ms. Sharapova, the world's highest-paid female athlete, admitted that she had tested positive for the recently banned drug meldonium, Nike said it was suspending its relationship with her.

"We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova," the company said, adding that it would "continue to monitor the situation."

Other sponsors quickly followed. Porsche echoed Nike's statement, saying it had decided to "postpone planned activities." The Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer said it had "suspended negotiations" to extend Ms. Sharapova's contract, which had expired in December.

Not all of Ms. Sharapova's sponsors have suspended their relationships with her. Evian, for one, said only that it would "follow closely the development of the investigation," according to a statement reported by Reuters.

The statements from Nike, TAG Heuer and Porsche were certainly not definitive -- suspending ties is not the same as severing them. But in this fast-paced social media age, will people realize the difference?

The swift decisions, even acknowledging their nuance, are still puzzling. After all, isn't Nike the same company that stood by Lance Armstrong for years as he battled doping accusations? More than that, the company publicly defended Mr. Armstrong in 2012 after the United States Anti-Doping Agency released a report that supported the claims.

"Lance has stated his innocence and has been unwavering on this position," Nike said at the time, before dropping him a week later.

Nike has also stood by other athletes in their times of trouble, most notably Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant. Nike signed an endorsement deal with the quarterback Michael Vick in 2011 after he had served time in prison for his involvement in a dogfighting operation. (The company had dropped him in 2007, but only after he admitted in court papers that he funded the dogfighting ring and helped kill dogs that were underperforming. …

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