Sean Pendergast

Nike Suspends Sponsorship of Texans QB Deshaun Watson [UPDATED]

Nike, for the time being, is distancing themselves from Deshaun Watson.
Nike, for the time being, is distancing themselves from Deshaun Watson. Photo by Eric Sauseda
When you're a star athlete like Deshaun Watson, it takes a village to meticulously craft and hone your public image, and in 2021, the age of Twitter and Instagram followers being the image equivalent of passing yards and touchdowns, there is a lot of money in that image remaining engaging and pristine. I know first hand, from having worked with Deshaun Watson on an event for Verizon (one of his big sponsors, for now), that the amount of sweat equity that goes into a sponsorship endeavor mirrors the amount of film work that goes into getting ready for the Colts that Sunday.

Over the last few weeks, everything that has happened surrounding Deshaun Watson has been the polar opposite of engaging and pristine. He is accused by 22 different plaintiffs of varying degrees of sexual misconduct, ranging from awkward requests and uncomfortable touching to flat out sexual assault. Again, these are all allegations at this point, but in the world of marketing, allegations sometimes may as well be a conviction.

That appears to be the direction that at least two of Watson's big sponsors are headed now, in the wake of the civil lawsuits (not to mention at least two criminal complaints against Watson). First this morning, as reported by  CNBC, Nike has chosen to suspend its sponsorship of Watson:

Nike has suspended its endorsement of Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, the company told CNBC on Wednesday.

“We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and have suspended Deshaun Watson. We will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Nike said in a statement.
It's important to note that Nike uses the word "suspend," not "sever," as it would appear that they want to wait at least a bit longer to see what Watson's side of the story entails, while at least giving off the optics that they are distancing themselves from Watson. Unfortunately, for Watson, Apple, which owns Beast By Dre headphones, is not exercising the same level of patience. Just a couple hours after the Nike news, reports emerged that Beats By Dre would no longer carry Watson as a spokesperson:

This is a huge development for Watson personally, as he has long been viewed as a potential marketing machine, with an outwardly infectious personality, a reputation as a great leader and good citizen, not to mention the fact that he is REALLY good at football. Apple jumping off the Watson ship, and Nike preparing its life raft, are indicators that, at the very least, Watson's poor judgment has tainted him going forward.


Even if he's found innocent of the allegations in the lawsuit, at the very least, he's got a strange habit of booking dozens of massage therapists per year off of Instagram, and in at least one case  (believed to be Jane Doe Number 3 of the lawsuits), he claims that some pretty graphic sexual activity was "consensual."

If we are keeping an eye on other sponsors moving forward, here is a list of Watson's sponsors, as of the beginning of the 2020 football season:

Beats By Dre (Apple)
DraftKings
EPIX
Gillette
Miller Lite
Nike
Oikos
Raising Cane's
Reliant Energy
Rolex
Samsung
Verizon
Zurvita

In addition, he has done work in the past for Old Spice and Gatorade, and locally, he has been part of numerous H-E-B commercials with former teammate DeAndre Hopkins and current teammate Justin Reid.

Update 12:40 p.m.

Aaron Reiss of TheAthletic.com reports that Reliant Energy will not be renewing its relationship with Watson, but points out it was due to expire before the sexual abuse allegations surfaced.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast