Pro athletes not only achieve magnificent feats in the arena, they are also frequently in the public eye. This makes them the perfect advocates for different brands looking to sell their products. Many athletes make even more money from their sponsorship deals than from their contracts.
But when these athletes do something wrong, they can cause blowback to the brands they represent and are subsequently dropped from the agreements. These negative actions can come in many forms from embarrassing situations to serious crimes. Below is a list of athletes who have lost major endorsement deals.
Sponsorship deals could be much more important for Olympic athletes than they are for players in the NBA or NFL. Without multi-million dollar contracts, swimmers and track athletes rely on their endorsements both as a salary and also to supplement their training.
After he concocted a fake kidnapping story during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, Ryan Lochte lost his endorsement deals with Ralph Lauren, Speedo and Gentle Hair Removal. The loss of sponsorships cost the swimmer an estimated $5-$10 million.
Maria Sharapova began her playing career in 2003 and was a near-immediate success. Thanks to her combination of great looks and incredible play, she made an ideal sponsor for a number of different companies.
Sharapova, who is a 5 time Grand Slam winner, tested positive for the drug Meldonium and was banned from tennis for two years. After the results of her test was revealed, the tennis star lost her endorsement deals with American Express, Avon and Porsche.
Tiger Woods was one of the more marketable athletes in the history of professional sports. The high profile winner of 15 major championships with the squeaky clean image was an incredible pitchman for an enormous number of companies.
In 2009, though, it was revealed that Woods had been cheating on his wife and she had attacked him with a golf club. Following that incident, the endorsement deals began to dwindle. Woods lost deals with AT&T, Accenture, and Buick.
The 2019 NFL offseason could not have gone worse for super star wide receiver Antonio Brown. After forcing his way out of Pittsburgh, he landed in Oakland, where helmet issues and diva activity got him cut from the team before the start of the season.
Then he signed with the Patriots and things only got worse. Brown was immediately accused of inappropriate advances by two women. Nike responded by releasing him from their sponsorship deal. New England responded by releasing him after one game played.
By beating testicular cancer and returning to become the most dominant athlete in cycling history, Lance Armstrong became an inspiration to many Americans. But accusations of doping always followed the cyclist and the gates came crashing down in 2012 when the USDA found that he had used performance enhancers.
The blowback from the positive tests was severe for Armstrong as so many people were so invested in his success. The 7-time tour winner lost multiple sponsorships including those with Nike, Anheuser Busch and Radio Shack.
When Michael Vick entered the NFL in 2001, he not only became a star, he also exuded a sense of cool that all brands were desperate to be associated with. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback held a number of lucrative sponsorships.
In 2007, Vick pled guilty to federal dogfighting charges and was sentenced to prison time. The quarterback was banned from the NFL and Vick also lost a number of deals including those with Nike, Reebok, and Upper Deck.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his magnetic smile was not only one of the NBA’s very best players in the ’80s and ’90s, but he was also one of the league’s most successful pitchmen. Then in 1991, Johnson shocked the world by declaring that he had contracted the AIDS virus.
The world was a much different place in the early ’90s and companies sought ways to distance themselves from the former Laker. Johnson did not have his contract renewed by Target or Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Rashard Mendenhall was a bruising running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and won a Super Bowl with the team during the 2008 season. He was also a thoughtful player who wasn’t afraid to give his opinion on a number of different topics.
In 2011, Mendenhall might have gone a bit too far when he took issue with people who celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden. The comments not only ended the running back’s partnership with Champion, but they may have also cut his career short as he retired at only 26 years of age.
It’s hard to overstate just how famous Mike Tyson was during the late ’80s and early ’90s. The ferocious heavyweight quickly and efficiently disposed of every fighter willing to stand in the ring with him.
Tyson was accused of serious abuse by Ex-Wife Robin Givens in 1988. He was then convicted of far worse in 1992. Following these two incidents, the boxer lost his sponsorship deals with a number of companies including Pepsi, Kodak, and Nintendo, who had produced a wildly popular video game where players fought against Tyson.
Gilbert Arenas was one of the best underdog stories in the NBA. After being drafted in the second round of the 2001 draft, he molded himself into a high scoring superstar. He was sponsored by Adidas, who could be considered a bit an underdog in the NBA shoe world.
Everything came crashing down for Arenas in late 2009 when he involved a firearm in an argument with teammate Javaris Crittenton. The guard was dropped by Adidas shortly after the incident.
Despite his diminutive stature, the 5-9 Ray Rice emerged as one of the best running backs in the NFL. After 6 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, Rice was caught on camera punching an knocking out his fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator.
Rice was released by the Ravens shortly after the video was made public and he has never again played in the NFL. Not only did he lose endorsement deals with Nike and Electronic Arts, sporting goods retailer Modell’s pulled his jersey from all of their stores.
When Adrian Peterson was drafted into the NFL in 2007, it was expected that he would be an immediate superstar. And those thoughts were right as Peterson became a dominant force with his best season coming in 2012.
The good feelings form that MVP season did not last long. In 2014, Peterson was charged with beating his 4-year-old son with a stick. The backlash came fast and furious as the star running back lost his sponsorship deals with Radisson, Castrol, and Nike.
Wayne Rooney has always been destined for stardom. The soccer star signed with Everton at only 9 years of age and made his first professional appearance with the team at only 16. Being so famous at such a young age took its toll on the young star.
Rooney was caught cheating on his pregnant wife in 2010 and was then pulled from ads for Coke Zero. After some more missteps involving on-air foul language, he was ultimately dropped by Coke altogether.
Jason Giambi became one of baseball’s best hitters while playing for the small-market Oakland A’s. When the slugging first baseman moved the country’s biggest market in New York, it was expected that his sponsorship opportunities would multiply.
That didn’t come to pass, however, largely due to Giambi’s connection to baseball’s steroid scandal. The big hitter first lost his endorsement with Nike and following that, he also let go by both Pepsi and Arm & Hammer.
After a stunning performance at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, American Carl Lewis was poised the dominate the 1988 games in Seoul, South Korea. Lewis’ plans were somewhat thwarted by Canadian Ben Johnson who shockingly won the 100-meter race.
Soon after the race, though, it was reported that Johnson has failed a drug test and he was stripped of the medal. The sprinter was also stripped of his endorsement deal with shoe company Diadora who immediately canceled their partnership.
Kobe Bryant, who entered the NBA as a teenager in 1996 had everything a company could ask for. Not only was he an incredible basketball player, but he also had an All American image that could sell anything from sneakers to fast food.
That image changed in 2003 when the shooting guard was accused of taking advantage of an employee from a Colorado Hotel. While the case against Bryant was dropped by prosecutors, he was still dropped by brands such as McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Nutella.
Warren Sapp was a dominant force during his NFL playing career, mostly spent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After retirement, the former defensive tackle became a fixture on the NFL Network’s programming.
In 2015, Sapp was arrested in a sting operation during Super Bowl weekend. The blowback for the NFL Hall of Famer was swift. Not only did he lose his job with the NFL Network, but he also lost sponsorship deals with Bud Light and Zyppah.
Athletes lose their sponsorship deals for a variety of different reasons. Patriots Tight End, Aaron Hernandez, lost his endorsement deals for the most serious reason possible; his involvement in a murder investigation.
After his arrest, the former Florida Gator was dropped as a pitchman by both Puma and Cytosport. Hernandez was subsequently convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd and sentenced to life in prison. While serving his term, Hernandez took his own life in his prison cell.
OJ Simpson began his relationship with Hertz in 1975. A spot featuring Simpson running through the airport was very popular. The success of that ad led to a near 20-year relationship with the car rental company.
Simpson’s ads led to a reasonably successful acting career, and he even managed to keep his job with Hertz after domestic abuse allegations in 1989. The long relationship with Hertz ended for Simpson in 1994 when he faced trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown-Simpson.
Oscar Pistorius was a South African who had become a championship level runner despite being born with a congenital defect that necessitated the amputation of both of his feet. In 2012, he became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic games.
In February of 2013, Pistorius anded the life of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria, South Africa home. He was later found guilty of culpable homicide. The runner was stripped of endorsement deals with Nike and Oakley.