Nike has revealed details into its split with soccer star Neymar Jr., stating it was the result of sexual assault allegations made by a company employee against the athlete.
The alleged incident — which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal — occurred in 2016, Nike said, and was reported to the company in 2018. According to Nike, the employee shared her experience in a forum created “to afford a safe environment in which current and former employees could confidentially share their experiences and concerns.”
“When the employee first relayed her allegations to Nike’s leadership in 2018, she did so only with assurances of confidentiality. While Nike was prepared and ready to investigate at that time, Nike respected the employee’s initial desire to keep this matter confidential and avoid an investigation,” Nike wrote in a statement, which was emailed to FN. “As her employer, we had a responsibility to respect her privacy and did not believe it was appropriate to share that information with law enforcement or any third party without the employee’s consent.”
The statement continued, “In 2019, when the employee later expressed interest in pursuing the matter, we acted immediately. Nike commissioned an independent investigation and retained separate independent legal counsel for the employee, of her choosing and at the company’s expense.”
Nike’s said the investigation was inconclusive and that “no single set of facts emerged that would enable us to speak substantively on the matter.” Nike said it would be inappropriate to make an accusatory statement without being able to provide supporting facts.
Still, the athletic giant said it ended its relationship with Neymar Jr. because “he refused to cooperate in a good faith investigation of credible allegations of wrongdoing by an employee.”
After the WSJ report was published, Neymar Jr. refuted the claims in a statement issued through NR Sports, the image rights company of the athlete. The statement said “there is nothing to add” because Neymar “was never directly accused and prosecuted by the Nike employee” since 2016.
“Neymar Jr. denies these accusations. Similar to the allegations of sexual assault made against him in 2019 — allegations in which Brazilian authorities acknowledged his innocence — these allegations are false. Neymar Jr., if fired, which never happened, will defend itself vigorously against these unfounded attacks,” the statement read. “Neymar Jr. and Nike ended the relationship for commercial reasons, which had been discussed since 2019, nothing related to these reported facts. 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.”
In an August 2020 email, Nike confirmed with FN that Neymar Jr. was no longer an athlete ambassador of the brand.
Also in August, multiple reports stated that Neymar Jr. was set to sign an endorsement deal with Puma. The next month, Puma confirmed that the speculation was true, and that it had entered a long-term partnership with the athlete.
Puma declined FN’s request for comment.