In 2018, a Nike employee filed a complaint to the multinational sportswear company that soccer star Neymar had tried to force her to give him oral sex while she was helping him in New York City at a stop on his press tour, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. About a year after the investigation accelerated, the Paris Saint-Germain forward left the iconic sneaker brand—even though sources told the Journal that Neymar had eight years left on his contract—and joined a much smaller company, Puma.
This is the second time Neymar has been accused of sexual assault. In 2019, a woman reported to Brazilian police that Neymar had raped her in a Paris hotel. Brazilian police said they would not charge Neymar due to a lack of evidence; the woman was charged with fraud, extortion, and slander but the extortion and slander charges were dropped and, per the Journal, the woman was acquitted on the fraud charge; she still maintains that Neymar raped her.
Here’s what happened at Nike, according to the Journal: In June of 2016, Neymar was in New York City as part of a Nike publicity tour. The woman was one of several Nike employees handling logistics for one of the stops, which featured Neymar hanging out with Michael Jordan for a collaboration between the Jordan brand and Neymar. From the Journal:
After midnight, in the early hours of June 2, hotel staff asked the woman along with another Nike employee to help Neymar, who appeared to be intoxicated, into his room at the hotel, the woman told friends and Nike colleagues that night and in subsequent days. She told these people that when she was briefly left alone in the room with Neymar, he took off his underwear and tried to force her to perform oral sex. She said Neymar tried to block her from leaving the room and then chased her down the hotel hallway while he was still undressed.
The employee shared the incident with several friends, family members and Nike employees that night and in the following days and weeks, the people said.
The woman filed a complaint with Nike in 2018, when multiple women spoke out about the global brand’s “bullying ‘bro’ culture” that belittled and excluded women who worked there, while human resources did little to stop it. Per the Journal, people and documents showed that the woman spoke about what happened with Neymar with the head of Nike HR, Monique Matheson, and Nike’s general counsel, Hilary Krane. About a year later, in 2019, when Neymar was under investigation, the Nike employee reached out to Krane and Matheson to ask what had happened in regards to her complaint. She and was told, per the Journal, that “they hadn’t taken any action because they had been under the impression she didn’t want them to.”
Krane told the Journal this was because the employee had requested confidentiality in 2018, and Nike “did not believe it was appropriate to share that information with law enforcement or any third party without the employee’s consent.” The Journal describes the investigation as being “ramped up” after this inquiry, with Nike bringing in lawyers from the Cooley firm to investigate. Nike covered the woman’s legal costs and, according to people who spoke with the Journal, she requested “that Nike tell the public that Neymar’s behavior didn’t align with its values, start enforcing morality clauses in athlete contracts and adopt a code of conduct for endorsement deals.”
The results of that investigation aren’t clear. The Journal story doesn’t say explicitly how the investigation unfolded, what it included, and what it found; Nike later issued a statement saying the results were “inconclusive.” A Cooley lawyer told the Journal that the firm did an “an extensive and thorough investigation” but provided no further detail. A spokeswoman for Neymar insisted that in this instance, like the 2019 investigation, her client is innocent. But Nike, in the same statement, said that they cut ties with Neymar because “he refused to cooperate in a good faith investigation of a credible allegation of wrongdoing by an employee.”
What will matter most to Neymar, ultimately, is he is still a global superstar, he still plays for PSG, and he will now get paid by Puma. Nike will continue to issue statements about how hard it tried and how seriously it took what the employee said. But it’s impossible to ignore what the Nike employee said she wanted: a public statement from Nike denouncing Neymar’s behavior as well as higher expectations for athletes it endorses. That never happened.