Nike came under the spotlight for an ad featuring double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius that reads “I am the bullet in the chamber” after the track star was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. She was shot to death in their South Africa home on Valentine’s Day morning.
While the ad has already been pulled from Pistorius’ personal website, Nike has now spoken out on the incident and the nature of the company’s sponsorship.
Nike issued an official statement: “Nike extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to all families concerned following this tragic incident. As it is a police matter, Nike will not comment further at this time.”But more insight was given when Nike South Africa spokesperson Seruscka Naidoo told Agence France-Presse, “We’re not commenting on our sponsorship or relationship.”
She continued, “At this moment, it’s a matter that’s being investigated. We’re not speaking about the sponsorship, [there’s an] issue at hand here which is much bigger than a sponsorship.”
Naidoo was sure to clarify, however, that the ad was displayed on “Oscar’s website, it’s not a Nike-owned website.”
Oakley and BP Global also had deals with Pistorius. Ad Age reports that both are “shocked” by the incident but wouldn’t provide further comment.
A different Nike commercial, however, that features Pistorius has been pulled from South African television.
“Out of respect and sympathy to the bereaved, M-Net will be pulling its entire Oscar campaign featuring Oscar Pistorius with immediate effect,” M-Net Movies tweeted.
Although Pistorius is only shown running, the commercial has another athlete giving a voice-over about how athletes’ bodies are their weapons.
Watch the ad below — Pistorius appears 37 seconds in.
While Nike has dealt with controversies surrounding sponsorships in the past — including Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Lance Armstrong, and Michael Vick — an athlete charged with murder is relatively uncharted territory for the company.
Disney decided to go with Ravens quarterback Trent Diller rather than Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis in its “I’m going to Disneyland” ad probably due to the fact that Lewis was charged with two counts of murder in 2000. (The charges were reduced after he testified against another other defendants.)
Although the most notable endorsed American athlete charged with murder is O.J. Simpson, Ad Age notes that Hertz dropped Simpson two years before his arrest, when he was accused of domestic violence in 1992.
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