Famous Athletes That Lost Endorsement Deals Due To Scandals

The journey to making it as a professional athlete is filled with blood, sweat, and tears. Making it to the top is difficult, but luckily for some, they're eventually rewarded with the opportunity to receive huge contracts from teams and multi-million dollar endorsement deals from companies. Many professional athletes aren't just the biggest name in their field, they're the biggest athletes in the world. With that spotlight on them, it's no surprise that many companies recruit them to become the face of their brands. Those contracts don't just come with millions of dollars, they're expected to keep their image picture-perfect in order to represent the brand well.

During their claim to fame, some athletes have crumbled under the pressure and have landed themselves in trouble off the field. Some have been able to bounce back from the endless scandals, while others suffered huge losses professionally. Outside of having their names tarnished, pro athletes end up losing their lucrative endorsement deals with big-name companies. Here is a look at the biggest athletes who lost their endorsement deals after a devastating scandal.

Nike said goodbye to Lance Armstrong

The label of a cheater is difficult for athletes to come back from. Peers in their sport no longer respect them, and fans feel ultimately betrayed. Not only do some athletes suffer long suspensions for doping, but their previous record-breaking achievements are also considered fraudulent. When Lance Armstrong confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career, it rocked the entire sports world. Previously considered a hero for bringing awareness to cancer, Armstrong was not only stripped of his Olympic medals but also banned from professional cycling. 

He was later stripped of his previous seven Tour de France wins, which he admitted to using drugs to win. Despite sitting down with Oprah Winfrey and coming clean, Nike severed all ties with him. The company previously paid the cyclist millions and he proudly rode Nike-branded bikes during his races. "Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him," the company said in a statement. Other sponsors quickly severed ties with him, leaving the disgraced cyclist to lose eight sponsors in one day. Trek, 24 Hour Fitness, Honey Stinger, Easton-Bell Sports were a few to announce the termination of his contract, per CNBC.

Barry Bonds' scandal cost him everything

Barry Bonds' career was filled with many home runs and controversy. The baseball star has admitted that he didn't always have the best attitude with media and his fans during his prime. "I mean, I was just flat-out dumb. What can I say? I'm not going to try to justify the way I acted toward people. I was stupid," he said in an interview with Sports On Earth. Being known as the villain also didn't help him receive any grace when he found himself in a steroid controversy. 

The lengthy investigation into his alleged use of steroids lasted over five years with the baseball star admitting to using banned substances but claimed it was done unknowingly. In 2007, as the baseball star made history with a home run record, many were unsure whether to celebrate it. A shadow of doubt hovered over his accomplishment and companies were hesitant to capitalize on the moment. In 2001, after he broke yet another record, he was greeted with endorsement deals with Yum! Brands Inc. and Fila. 

According to The New York Times, the steroid scandal possibly cost him $10 million a year in lost endorsements. Before news of the steroid scandal broke, he was reportedly in talks with MasterCard for a considerable sponsorship. Those talks broke off as the company quickly backed away from the controversy. With this scandal, Bonds didn't just lose endorsements, in the end, he quite possibly cost himself a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Michael Phelps won medals then lost sponsors

Michael Phelps captured the world's attention during his 2008 Olympics performance. He was the swimmer the world cheered for during his historic win of eight gold medals. Despite coming back home with gold medals around his neck and seven world titles under his belt, the swimmer would soon find himself in a firestorm of controversy. In 2009, after photos of Phelps smoking marijuana from a pipe were published in a British tabloid, sponsors soon felt pressured to drop the Olympian. 

The cereal company Kellogg's announced that as a result of the controversy, they opted not to renew his soon-to-be expired contract. "Michael's most recent behavior is not consistent with the image of Kellogg," company spokeswoman Susanne Norwitz said (Via CNN). Phelps owned up to his actions and issued a public apology to his fans. "I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me," he said in a statement. The swimmer was then suspended from swimming competitions for three months. 

In 2014, Phelps was arrested for a DUI, since then, however, he opened up about how his substance abuse stemmed from mental health struggles. "I just self-medicated because I was just running from whatever I didn't want to face," he said in an interview with Mic.

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Nike was urged to drop Michael Vick

Michael Vick is one of the most famous names in football, but unfortunately, after 2007, the talk around him surrounded a scandal instead of his game. The quarterback was sentenced to 23 months in jail for operating a dogfighting ring. At the time of his arrest, Vick was suspended by the NFL and after serving his prison sentence, he was later released by the Atlanta Falcons. 

Prior to the animal abuse controversy, the quarterback was netting $7 million a year from his sponsorships. Corporations like Nike and Reebok quickly distanced themselves from the athlete. Following protests by animal rights activists at Niketown stores, the company suspended his endorsement deal and sales of all products related to him.

Reebok later announced they were stopping all sales of his football jerseys. In an interesting move, Nike made it known they were open to working with him again in the future by not fully terminating his contract. In 2011, CBS reported that Nike re-signed the quarterback. The details of the new contract were not revealed but Nike was excited about their partnership. "Michael acknowledges his past mistakes," Nike said in a statement. "We do not condone those actions, but we support the positive changes he has made to better himself off the field."

Tiger Woods' scandal cheated him out of millions

In 2009, it was hard to look at the media without seeing living golf legend Tiger Woods. Instead of the coverage being about his success in the sport, it was 24-hour coverage of his unraveling cheating scandal and car crash. The National Enquirer first broke the shocking news of Woods' affair with Rachel Uchitel, a nightclub hostess. Following the eye-popping revelation, news of a fight between Woods and his wife, Elin Nordegren, made headlines. Following her discovery of the affair, Elin chased the athlete with his own golf clubs outside their home. In a rush to escape, Tiger attempted to flee the scene in his Cadillac Escalade, but quickly lost control and crashed into a tree. His eventful night was nothing compared to what was to come. Multiple women later came forward, alleging they too had an affair with the famous golfer. 

As his personal life began to unravel, many of his high-profile sponsors dropped him for fear that his scandals would tarnish their brands. AT&T, Gillette, and Accenture were quick to drop the golfer. Nike, who signed Woods to a $40 million deal in 1996, remained steady in their support of him. While the company remained onboard the Woods train, they did cut his massive endorsement package from $20 million to $10 million, per Fortune. The loss of sponsors and a disappointing 2010 season for the golfer hit him where it hurts. According to Business Insider, he lost around $22 million in endorsements.

Kobe Bryant's scandal almost derailed his career

For many, Kobe Bryant represented one of the greatest players in basketball. With five championships and a career spanning twenty seasons in the NBA, he was a fixture in many people's lives. For those who followed Bryant since he entered the league, they can recall when the young star quickly found himself in hot water. In 2003, an employee at a Colorado resort accused Bryant of rape. 

Bryant was a guest at the resort while recovering from knee surgery. The sports star was later charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment, which he publicly denied during a press conference. Despite prosecutors dropping that case and Bryant later settling the civil one, his reputation took a giant hit. The NBA All-star lost major endorsement deals with McDonald's and Nutella. According to Steiner Sports Marketing (via New York Post), both Nutella and McDonald's paid Bryant $500,000 a year and the athlete was reportedly bringing in a total of $10 to $12 million in endorsements yearly, prior to the case. 

Shortly before his arrest, Bryant inked a massive $45 million deal with Nike. Despite bringing him on, the shoe company chose not to run ads featuring the athlete during the scandal. Two years after his arrest, they ran their first ad with him in Sports Illustrated, per ESPN. Nike took a risk by staying on board with the athlete, which turned into a long-running partnership that still remains, even after his death in 2020.

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Rashard Mendenhall tweets landed him in trouble

Celebrities landing in trouble on social media is not something new. Rashard Mendenhall is just one example of why some tweets are better left in the drafts. After Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, Mendenhall took to Twitter to voice his opinions. "What kind of person celebrates death?" he tweeted in reference to some Americans rejoicing over the news. "It's amazing how people can HATE a man they never ever heard speak. We've only heard one side." In a response to a fan, Mendenhall even referenced a 9/11 conspiracy theory: "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style." 

Mendenhall quickly attempted damage control by clarifying his tweets. In a letter posted online, the athlete said, "Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation ... I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm." Despite his efforts, in the days following, Champion terminated his endorsement deal. 

The apparel company told ESPN, "While we respect Mr. Mendenhall's right to express sincere thoughts regarding potentially controversial topics, we no longer believe that Mr. Mendenhall can appropriately represent Champion." The running back ended up suing the brand for over $1 million. In 2013, Mendenhall and Hanesbrand Inc. reached a settlement, although details of their settlement were not made public.

Maria Sharapova was no longer the queen of the court

During her prime, Maria Sharapova was the queen of the tennis court. For 11 straight years, she was named Forbes' highest-paid female athlete. As one of the most well-known names in tennis, Sharapova's matches were must-see television — especially when she was facing her rival, Serena Williams. With all the acclaim came multi-million dollar endorsement deals. In 2014, Forbes estimated her net worth at $200 million. However, in 2016 Sharapova's reputation took a dramatic hit when she announced in a press conference that she failed a drug test. "I take full responsibility for it. I made a huge mistake," she said. "I let my fans down, I let the sport down." 

According to CNN, the five-time grand slam winner explained that she was taking a substance called meldonium since 2006, but claimed she had no idea it was a recently banned substance. Despite the mistake, the tennis star was issued a two-year ban by the ITF (International Tennis Federation), per CNN, which was later reduced to 15 months. Following the scandal, Sharapova lost her spot as the highest-paid female athlete to Serena Williams. 

The loss to Williams may have been due to many of Sharapova's endorsement deals backing away from the star. According to Business Insider, longtime sponsor Nike briefly suspended their $100 million deal with the athlete during the scandal. Luxury brands like TAG Heuer and Porsche also moved to cut ties with the tennis star.

Gilbert Arenas' locker room antics were career-ending

Gilbert Arenas' bringing a few firearms into the Wizards' locker room has got to be one of the wildest stories to come out of the NBA. In 2009, after a team-building exercise — aka gambling — turned heated, teammates Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton threatened each other. Arenas told Action Network that Crittenton was losing badly in a game of booray and the trash-talk got under his skin.

When the game finished, Crittenton allegedly threatened to shoot Arenas. At the next team practice, Arenas brought four unloaded guns into the Wizards' locker room. "It was about me calling his bluff," Arenas explained. "You say you're going to shoot me? Fine, I'll bring you the guns to do it." While taunting Crittenton, Arenas asked him to come over and pick a gun to shoot him with. What Arenas and the team didn't know was that Crittenton had also brought a loaded gun into the locker room.

The NBA ended up suspending both players for the rest of the season. Arenas pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession and was later traded by the Wizards. He played his last NBA game in 2012. During the scandal, he lost a lucrative eight-year deal with Adidas, reportedly worth $40 million, per ESPN. His NBA suspension also cost him $147,208 per game, as well. Crittenton, meanwhile, is currently serving time in prison for voluntary manslaughter in another case.  A game of cards really held big losses for both of these athletes.

Mike Tyson's career took a massive hit

"Iron Mike" Tyson hit a low point in his life following his divorce from Robin Givens in 1989. Givens accused the boxer of domestic violence and drug abuse. After her now infamous interview with Barbra Walters — in which Givens detailed his volatile behavior — Tyson's stock began to fall. Followed up with an embarrassing loss to Michael Spinks, and a horrifying car crash, Tyson's life seemed to be unraveling.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Tyson lost over $2 million in endorsement deals after his epic loss to Spinks. His personal life troubles allegedly caused Pepsi to back out of a potential deal worth $8 million to $10 million, as well. According to Tyson, it wasn't just his personal life that caused many of his sponsors to start dropping him, but his public persona, too — The one that had a habit of coming out during interviews. "Sometimes I took it too far and I was talking about punching somebody's nose and brain in the nose, and then all the good Kodak commercials just stopped," he explained to "Vlad TV.

Despite the popularity of Nintendo's "Punch-Out!!" video game, Tyson's continued losing in the ring ultimately led the company to not renew his contract in 1990. After that, Nintendo removed his name and likeness from the game, altogether. According to some reports, Tyson was allegedly only paid $50,000 in the Nintendo deal but he disputes it. "Hey, that was a bad deal, but I don't think it was 50 G's," Tyson told "VladTV." 

Magic Johnson lost his magic touch with sponsors

Earvin "Magic" Johnson shocked the world back in 1991 when he announced he was HIV-positive. With a high death rate and little information known about the illness at the time, the NBA champion briefly retired from the sport. Though there was a stigma around HIV, many found Johnson inspiring for using his platform to raise awareness. Behind the scenes was a different story. Many of his famous sponsors were unsure what to do next. 

Some sponsors, like Target and KFC, turned their backs on the star. Both companies decided to not renew their contracts with the former point guard. Nestlé Chocolate and Confection Co went even further and shelved a planned commercial featuring Johnson. Many of the companies listed denied their decisions had anything to do with his illness, but the timing was more than telling. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, Johnson's HIV announcement cost him $25 million in endorsement money. Corporations were no longer sure they wanted the five-time NBA champion as the spokesperson for their company. Despite the brief hit he took, Johnson went on to make millions with his own companies. The former player now owns a string of restaurants, movie theaters, and even a piece of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

O.J. Simpson's highest paid sponsor cut ties with him

Some people's earliest memories of the '90s are of O.J. Simpson's shocking arrest. In 1994 Simpson was arrested and charged with killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Prior to his arrest, O.J. was a lovable football player with a personality and smile that was easy to market. The Hall of Famer was considered an A-list celebrity that made the perfect transition from sports to media personality. He rubbed shoulders with Hollywood's brightest stars and was the premiere athlete for companies to hire as a spokesperson.

Despite his ex-wife previously reporting to the police that Simpson was abusive, the former pro-athlete was so beloved, many simply overlooked Nicole Brown Simpson's cry for help. The fateful night of Nicole's murder along with the breaking news of O.J.'s infamous car chase made it impossible to overlook his behavior any further. Quickly becoming one of the most infamous people in America overnight, his long-time endorsement deals came into question. 

Per The Washington Post, O.J. became the face of Hertz in 1975. The running back was featured in dozens of memorable commercials for the rent-a-car company. In 1992, during his divorce from Nicole, it was revealed that Hertz was paying Simpson $550,000 a year. "[Hertz is] shocked and saddened by this development," the company said in a prepared statement (via The Washington Post). "Obviously, Hertz has no plans to utilize Mr. Simpson in any kind of advertising." 

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Wayne Rooney's cheating scandal hurt his pockets

When Wayne Rooney first hit the soccer scene, many gravitated towards the player for his unique skills and wholesome image. The Manchester United player was married to his high school sweetheart, solidifying his image as a family man. However, in 2010 his family man image was shattered by a cheating scandal. 

The Mirror revealed that Rooney cheated on his then-pregnant wife with a sex worker, Jennifer Thompson, reportedly taking her out multiple times on lavish dates. This wasn't the only cheating scandal the couple had to deal with, either. In 2004, his wife forgave him after British tabloids exposed his cheating ways — twice. 

With all these scandals piling up, sponsor Coca-Cola was ready to cut ties. In fact, the beverage company did not renew the athlete's contract after it expired. According to The Telegraph, the lucrative contract was reportedly worth $1 million per year. Executives at Coke were disgusted by his behavior off the field, and decided he was not worth the trouble.

Nike knocked Manny Pacquiao off of their list

Manny Pacquiao is one of the biggest names in boxing. His quick hands were always a threat to his opponents. However, in 2016, Pacquiao soon learned that his bigoted comments would be a bigger threat to his career than he realized. According to CNN, during a senate campaign in the Philippines, the boxer raised eyebrows with his views on homosexuality. "Will you see any animals where male is to male and female is to female?" the boxer questioned. "The animals are better. They know how to distinguish male from female. If we approve [of] male on male, female on female, then man is worse than animals." 

The athlete somewhat apologized for his comments soon after. Claiming he was not trying to hurt people, Pacquiao still decided to double down on his views on same-sex marriage. "This does not change my position against same-sex marriage. That's what I believe. My only mistake is comparing gay people to animals," he explained. Nike swiftly announced that they were dropping Pacquiao as an endorser and strongly opposed his views. For Nike, this would be Pacquiao's second strike. Back in 2012, Pacquiao made bigoted comments about same-sex marriage, causing Nike to not renew his contract. After severing relations in 2016, there's no word whether they're interested in taking him back again.

Oscar Pistorius couldn't run away from this scandal

Oscar Pistorius captured the world's attention during the 2012 Olympics. Nicknamed The Blade Runner, his inspirational story captivated the imaginations of fans and onlookers alike. The South African sprinter, who had both legs amputated as a child, ran with prosthetic legs at the Olympics. With such an inspiring story, his career took off and he soon landed himself endorsement deals. 

In 2012 the athlete was bringing in $1 million a year in endorsement deals, inking deals with some pretty big names like Nike and Oakley. The runner even became the face of a campaign for a Thierry Mugler fragrance. Pistorius was on the fast track to becoming a huge star in sports. In 2013, however, everything changed for the sprinter. On Valentine's Day, news broke that Pistorius' girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was shot dead. 

Originally, Pistorius' story was that he fired shots at what he thought was an intruder. However, a thorough police investigation found that the three shots he fired at Steenkamp were indeed intentional. As the court case unfolded, Oakley announced they were terminating his contract and Nike pulled ads featuring him, per ABC. One Nike ad, featuring the runner with the phrase "I am the bullet in the chamber," was pulled from his website. In 2016, Pistorius was initially sentenced to six years, however, the following year, the court more than doubled his sentence: An additional 13 years were added to his punishment, per NPR.

Nike cut ties with Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving's signature shoes with Nike launched in 2014, and since that time, it's been a very lucrative relationship for both parties. Per ESPN, Irving's endorsement deal was worth about $11 million annually, with the shoes being the real star behind most of his success. However, in 2021 Irving's relationship with Nike became strained. After photos of the Kyrie 8 leaked, Irving commented on an Instagram fan page, blasting the company. "I have nothing to do with the design or marketing of the upcoming Kyrie 8, [in my opinion] these are trash!" he exclaimed. Irving claimed Nike was releasing it despite his lack of approval. 

Following his public criticism, in May 2022, ESPN reported that Nike was unlikely to extend Irving's signature shoe deal. The shoe brand originally denied the reports, but in November 2022, they had no choice but to officially cut ties. According to The New York Times, Irving was suspended by the Nets for posting a link to an antisemitic documentary on social media without clarification or an apology. Initially, he even refused to outright deny holding antisemitic beliefs. Irving later apologized but the damage was complete. A day later, Nike suspended their relationship with him and canceled the release of his next shoe. "At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech, and we condemn any form of antisemitism," Nike said in a statement (via The New York Times).