SBD/Issue 154/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

Nike Stands By Roethlisberger; Should It Consider Dropping Him?

Watch This Nike/Dick's Sporting Goods
Spot Featuring Ben Roethlisberger

Nike said that it is "standing by" Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger despite his off-field behavioral issues, but N.Y. TIMES opinion columnist Timothy Egan wrote he has "come to expect more of Nike with regard to women." The company in an e-mail said, "Ben continues to be part of the Nike roster of athletes." Egan noted Nike's stance indicates that Roethlisberger, a "man most parents would not let near their daughter, let alone their community center, is a fit representative for one of the premier American corporations." So what "exactly does it take for Nike to dump a jock?" Egan: "Dog-fighting will do it. ... But cruelty to women is O.K. I don't know how else to read the company's inconsistent stand. Here is a guy who treats women like garbage, yet a company that boasts of having humane corporate values uses him as their front man." What is the "point of having someone like Roethlisberger wearing a company logo in public?" Do people "really decide to buy shoes because a brute who spends his nights drunkenly pawning at women, and worse, lent his name to them?" Nike "helps obscure female athletes train and find a community of equally motivated women," and that is "one message from Nike." The other is that it is "O.K. for a buffoon of a man to disrespect women, so long as he continues to throw a football well" (NYTIMES.com, 4/21). TRUESLANT.com's Sara Libby noted Nike "put out a commercial promoting its female athletes back in 2007, after the ugly comments made by Don Imus about the Rutgers women's basketball team." Nike then was "all too happy to note how kick-ass its female athletes, like Serena Williams, Picabo Street and Gabby Reece, can be." But when it is the company's "own sponsored male athletes who are insulting women through their behavior, Nike can't be bothered to back up its ladies" (TRUESLANT.com, 4/22).

REASONABLE DOUBT: CNBC.com's Darren Rovell wrote the allegations against Roethlisberger "will assure us that Nike will never use him in a commercial again." So the question "becomes why doesn't Nike get rid of him now?" The "short answer seems to be that Nike doesn't sever contracts with athletes who haven't committed a crime or haven't been found to use performance enhancing drugs." Without Roethlisberger "being charged or convicted of sexual assault, he fits the bill of still staying under the Nike athlete roster." Rovell: "Precedent shows that Nike will just let its contract with Roethlisberger expire without mentioning it" (CNBC.com, 4/22).

ANIMAL KINGDOM: The PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE reports Penguins co-Owner Mario Lemieux is replacing Roethlisberger on a display at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Roethlisberger's image "has been used in a display on the pathway leading to the elephant barn." But a new sign "has been made using the image" of Lemieux, which "will replace the Roethlisberger piece of the exhibit." When asked if the display change "has anything to do with current events" surrounding Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Manager of PR & Media Relations Tracy Gray said, "Well, we have had some calls" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 4/23).

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