Nike Inc. and soccer superstar Neymar split ways last year after the company started investigating an allegation by a Nike employee that the Brazilian athlete had sexually assaulted her, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
In August 2020, Nike NKE, -0.24% didn’t publicly give a reason for the early end to its endorsement deal with one of the world’s most recognizable athletes. Nike’s marketing contract with Neymar had another eight years remaining, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The Nike employee had told friends as well as Nike colleagues in 2016 that Neymar tried to force her to perform oral sex in his hotel room while in New York City where she was helping to coordinate events and logistics for Neymar and his entourage, according to the people, including former and current Nike employees, and the documents.
Neymar denies the allegation, his spokeswoman said. “Neymar Jr. will vigorously defend himself against these baseless attacks in case any claim is presented, which did not happen so far,” she said in a statement. She said Nike and Neymar split for commercial reasons.
The Nike employee filed a complaint to Nike in 2018 and described the incident to the company’s head of human resources and general counsel, according to the people and documents. Nike hired lawyers at Cooley LLP to conduct an investigation starting in 2019 and decided to stop featuring Neymar in marketing amid the probe, according to the people and documents.
An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.
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