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18 High-Profile Athletes Who Lost Endorsements

Updated August 20, 2019 58.5k views18 items

Despite their tremendous strength, speed, agility, and finesse, athletes are just like the rest of us; they eat, breathe, and sleep. They make mistakes. Unlike most of us, however, their mistakes can cost them millions of dollars. Here are 18 athletes who lost endorsements.

Big time sponsors like Nike and Pepsi hire athletes to market their product and bring a well-known face and image to their brand. When an athlete gets caught doping or falsifying a police report, that sponsor faces the tough decision on whether they think the athlete in question is still marketable. Or, whether they need to cut ties.  

Some sports stars cut by sponsors are released from their endorsement deals immediately, some get the benefit of the doubt. Nike, a company that stuck with Michael Phelps even through two DUI arrests, shredded Jason Giambi's contract after mere allegations of his steroid abuse. Nike initially cut Michael Vick after he was tied to an illegal dogfighting ring, but then returned to the quarterback after his successful comeback to the grid iron, following his 21 months spent in a federal prison.

From getting caught taking steroids to saying really stupid things on social media to even murder allegations, athletes can do 1,000 different things to tarnish their image and lose millions in endorsements. Check out which athletes who lost sponsorships weathered the storm and which could never recover.

  • Photo: JD Lasica / Flickr

    Deal He Lost: Kellogg's

    Why He Lost It: The most decorated Olympic champion ever, Michael Phelps has fared extremely well with sponsors despite erratic behavior outside of the pool. In 2008, Kellogg's dropped the swimmer after pictures of him surfaced allegedly smoking a bong at a college party. Nike, Visa, Omega, Subway, and Speedo, however, all stuck with him. Phelps did not lose any sponsors even after two DUI convictions.

    The Aftermath: Phelps continued to dominate in the pool at the Olympic games in Rio in 2016, despite being 31 years old. He has endorsement deals with Omega, Under Armour, Master Spas, Sol Republic headphones, Aqua Sphere, and 800Razors.com.

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  • Photo: Police Mug Shot

    Deals He Lost: AirTran, Airways, Donruss, Nike, Reebok, Upper Deck

    Why He Lost Them: Then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted in 2007 of running an illegal dog fighting ring. Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely from the NFL. He also served 21 months in federal prison.

    The Aftermath: In 2009, the Pro Bowler was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles and made a triumphant return to the grid iron. He remained a polarizing figure; most dog lovers could forgive him. While with the Eagles, Vick went to his fourth Pro Bowl in 2010 and was named 2010's AP Comeback Player of the Year. Nike also returned and gave the qb a new endorsement contract.

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  • Deals He Lost: Nike, Vertimax, Dick's Sporting Goods and Modell's pulled his Jersey from all their stores, and EA removed Rice from their Madden NFL video game

    Why He Lost Them: In March 2014, Ray Rice was arrested and charged with third-degree aggravated assault following the release of a video that showed the Baltimore Ravens running back punching and dragging his unconscious then-fiancé Janay Palmer from a casino elevator. The footage was released by TMZ. Apart from his endorsement deals being dropped, Rice's contract with the Ravens was terminated. The three-time Pro Bowler was also suspended indefinitely by the NFL. Despite the ban, he was reinstated following an appeal in federal court.

    The Aftermath: Rice never signed on with another NFL team and currently remains a free agent. He has no endorsement deals, and in July 2016 promised to donate any salary he might earn to domestic violence charities, in the hopes of getting a contract. However, Palmer did marry Rice six weeks after the incident. 

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  • Photo: jccchou / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Deals She Lost: American Express, Avon, Porshe

    Why She Lost Them: Maria Sharapova was the highest paid female athlete in the world over before she admitted to failing a drug test at the Australian Open in March 2016. The Russian tennis star said she had been taking Meldonium since 2006, and did not know it was declared a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency at the beginning of 2016. The former number one player was suspended from tennis for two years by the International Tennis Federation.

    The Aftermath: Nike, Evian, and Head decided to stick with Sharapova and not pull their endorsement deals. The five-time grand slam winner may be allowed to return to the court as soon as September of 2016 pending an appeal.

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