Nike has suspended its endorsement of NFL star Deshaun Watson, in a move that highlights the risks and rewards of high-profile athlete and celebrity ambassador deals.
The footwear company made the call Wednesday, a day after two of the more than 20 women accusing the Houston Texans quarterback of sexual misconduct came forward publicly. According to ESPN, Beats by Dre plans to follow suit.
“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson,” Nike said in a statement. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
The allegations against Watson emerged on March 16, when Texas lawyer Tony Buzbee filed a civil lawsuit against the football player on behalf of a then-anonymous massage therapist. The suit alleges Watson came to the woman’s house for treatment in March 2020, touched her with his penis and asked for sex. Watson denied the claims that same day, saying he had “never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect.” In the days and weeks following, Buzbee filed lawsuits against Watson on the behalf of 21 other women, including one who alleges the football player forced her to perform oral sex.
The first of these women, Ashley Solis, came forward publicly Tuesday. Speaking at a press conference arranged by her lawyer, she said she still suffers from “panic attacks, anxiety and depression.”
“I’m in counseling as a result of Deshaun Watson’s actions,” Solis said. “I hope he knows how much pain he has inflected on me emotionally and physically. And I hope he knows how much pain he has inflicted on these other survivors.”
Another woman, Lauren Baxley, also put her name forward publicly for the first time Tuesday. Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, a lawyer at Buzbee’s law firm, read a letter written by Baxley aloud at Tuesday’s press conference.
“Every boundary from professional and therapeutic to sexual and degrading, you crossed or you attempted to cross,” Baxley wrote in the letter, addressed to Watson.
Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin responded to the press conference Tuesday with a statement that largely pushed back on Buzbee’s assertion that the lawsuits are not “about money.” Hardin cited emails sent to Watson’s lawyers in February demanding $100,000. In his response at the time, Watson’s representative Scott Gaffield did not agree to the demand, saying “we don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong.”
Both the NFL and the Houston Police Department have reportedly opened investigations into Watson.
The news comes as Nike faces claims it used the U.S. Postal Service’s intellectual property without prior authorization when creating a sneaker that copies the carrier’s classic Priority Mail logo and branding. The brand protection brouhaha dovetails with Nike’s trademark lawsuit against Brooklyn creative agency MSCHF for its notorious ‘Satan Shoes,’ 666 pairs of Air Max customized with Lucifer-centric details.