Nike’s split with soccer superstar Neymar nine months ago was due to allegations of sexual assault by an employee at the company against the 29-year-old Brazilian, the Wall Street Journal reports. Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. signed his first deal with Nike at the age of 13 as yet another Brazilian soccer prodigy, one who would blossom into one of the best and most recognizable players in the world, leaving Brazil first for Barcelona and then Paris Saint-Germain. In August 2020, Nike didn’t give any explanation for ending its relationship with Neymar, and the Brazilian’s representatives said it was for commercial reasons. Nike’s marketing tie-up with Neymar, however, was reportedly set to continue for another eight years, and Nike has now gone on the record about the sexual assault allegations and the superstar’s unwillingness to cooperate with an investigation of the matter.
The alleged incident occurred in mid-2016 when Neymar was in New York City on a publicity tour for a new shoe collaboration with Nike’s Jordan brand. The woman was part of a group at Nike working on logistics for Neymar and his entourage for an event at Citi Field with Michael Jordan. After the event, the group celebrated at a Manhattan nightclub, and after they returned to Neymar’s hotel in the early hours the following morning, hotel staff asked the woman and another Nike employee to help get an apparently drunk Neymar into his hotel room. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the woman told friends and colleagues about what happened next in Neymar’s room. “She told these people that when she was briefly left alone in the room with Neymar, he took off his underwear and tried to force her to perform oral sex,” according to the Journal. “She said Neymar tried to block her from leaving the room and then chased her down the hotel hallway while he was still undressed.”
A formal complaint wasn’t filed until two years later, when in 2018 the woman came forward as part of larger disclosure by female employees at Nike about their experiences with harassment and discrimination, as the company grappled with the treatment of women in its workplace. Nike didn’t take any action at the time and Neymar continued to feature in its global campaigns, including in the lead-up to the 2019 Women’s World Cup in Paris. When a rape allegation surfaced that summer after an encounter with a Brazilian model that Neymar said was consensual, the Nike employee asked the company if any action had been taken on her complaint against the superstar. Nike’s general counsel said the company had not taken any further steps because they believed the complaint to be confidential. When the employee expressed interest in pursuing the matter, Nike hired an outside law firm, Cooley LLP, to conduct an investigation into the matter and sidelined Neymar from its marketing campaigns as the company awaited the probe’s findings. Nike says that Neymar refused to cooperate with the investigation, and the following year the company quietly ended its relationship with the Brazilian.
“Nike ended its relationship with the athlete because he refused to cooperate in a good faith investigation of credible allegations of wrongdoing by an employee,” Hilary Krane, Nike’s general counsel, told the Journal. Krane said that the company had not previously disclosed the reasoning for its separation from Neymar because “no single set of facts emerged that would enable us to speak substantively on the matter. It would be inappropriate for Nike to make an accusatory statement without being able to provide supporting facts.”
A representative for Neymar denied the allegations and linked the alleged incident to contract negotiations, which were underway in 2019 at the time Nike launched the investigation. “It is very strange a case that was supposed to have happened in 2016, with allegations by a Nike employee, come to light only at that moment,” a Neymar spokeswoman told the Journal.