Nike Says It Cut Ties with Neymar After He Refused to Cooperate With Sexual Assault Investigation
Nike has given a reason for abruptly ending its partnership with Neymar last year, revealing in a recent statement that they cut ties with the Brazilian soccer star when he refused to cooperate with an investigation into allegations that he had sexually assaulted one of their employees.
As first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the company was "deeply disturbed" by the the sexual assault allegation, which stemmed from an alleged incident in 2016.
The female employee — who Nike chose not to name — officially reported the alleged incident to higher ups in 2018, the company said. An independent investigation was launched in 2019, when the employee expressed interest in pursuing the matter.
"From the very beginning, we have treated the employee's allegation and her experience with great seriousness," a spokesperson for Nike told PEOPLE in a statement. "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.
Representatives for Neymar did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, though a spokesperson for the soccer player denied that the allegation was the reason for the split in a statement to WSJ.
"Neymar Jr. will vigorously defend himself against these baseless attacks in case any claim is presented, which did not happen so far," the spokesperson said, adding that split was due to commercial reasons.
The athlete's spokesperson also told the outlet that there have been discussions between the two sides since 2019. "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," the spokesperson said.
Neymar, who's full name is Neymar da Silva Santos Jr., had worked with Nike for 15 years before their partnership was called off in August 2020. According to the WSJ, Neymar had 8 years remaining on his marketing contract.
The outlet, citing sources, said that the Nike employee told friends and colleagues that Neymar had allegedly tried to force her to perform oral sex after she escorted him back to his hotel room following a Nike event in New York City in 2016.
"When the employee first relayed her allegations to Nike's leadership in 2018, she did so only with assurances of confidentiality," Nike said in their statement. "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. 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."
An independent investigation commissioned by Nike in 2019 proved to be "inconclusive," the company said. Still, the company decided to stop featuring Neymar in its marketing and cut ties because of Neymar's refusal to participate.
Their reasoning was not made public because, "No single set of facts emerged that would enable us to speak substantively on the matter," Nike said. "It would be inappropriate for Nike to make an accusatory statement without being able to provide supporting facts."
In June 2019, Neymar was accused of raping a woman in Paris, according to the Associated Press. An investigation into the rape allegation was closed that August on lack of evidence, the outlet previously reported, and the accuser was indicted a month later for procedural fraud.
Neymar announced his partnership with Puma in September 2020. However, as the WSJ noted, continues to be the jersey sponsor both Neymar's club Paris Saint-Germain and the Brazilian national team.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.