Athletes charged with murder: Pistorius joins Simpson, Lewis and Carruth

UPDATE: Oscar Pistorius wept so loudly in court the judge said, “Take it easy,” as prosecutors announced they plan to pursue premeditated murder charges that could put him in prison for life.

The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Futterman noted the Blade Runner is just the latest Nike-affiliated athlete or coach to get in trouble, following Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Joe Paterno and Michael Vick.

Via the WSJ:

There’s a perception that Nike has somehow changed the rules of athletic success in a crass or craven way. Some accuse the company of commoditizing fame. The size of one’s Nike contract is often seen as another form of scorekeeping for the modern athlete, alongside things like the size of their contracts or the number of Twitter followers they have.

The thing about Nike that rarely gets acknowledged is that it doesn’t sell shoes, or even athletes, as much as it buys and sells stories, narratives, fairy tales. They aren’t a shoe company as much as a giant abstraction—a condition of the aspirational mind.

PREVIOUS: Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius joins the infamous list of athletes charged with murder, along with Ray Lewis, O.J. Simpson and Rae Carruth.

In my story for Advertising Age, I report how Pistorius’ stunned sponsors such as Nike, Oakley and BP Global are reacting to news he shot his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp over Valentine’s Day at his upscale home in Pretoria, South Africa.

Nike’s 2011 ad featuring the double-amputee nicknamed the “Blade Runner” seems eerily prophetic now. “I am the bullet in the chamber,” it reads, next to an image of Pistorius firing out of the starting block next to Swoosh’s traditional “Just Do It” slogan.

The Swoosh also featured the 26-year old Pistorius, (whose legs were amputated as a baby when he was born without fibula bones), in a TV spot themed: “My Body is my Weapon.” The Swoosh ad with the “bullet” reference was yanked from Pistorius’ personal web site Thursday.

Blogger Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports made a smart point on the subject of marketers using bullets and weapons in their ads. “Is weaponry and violence too serious of a metaphor to employ so casually in marketing?” he asked.

With the debate over gun control raging in the U.S., crisis manager Eric Dezenhall predicts Madison Avenue will “chill out” on using violent images and metaphors in ads for a while.

Nike and Oakley recently dropped disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong as an endorser. From my story in Ad Age:

Nike and other corporate sponsors of the jailed 26-year-old Pistorius reacted quickly to the horrific news from Pretoria, South Africa.

Nicknamed the “Blade Runner” for racing on carbon-fiber blades, Pistorius made history at the 2012 London Olympics by becoming the first double-leg amputee to participate in the games. The world’s most famous Paralympian is expected to appear at a bail hearing Friday.

“Nike extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to all families concerned following this tragic incident,” said the Swoosh in a statement. “As it is a police matter, Nike will not comment further at this time.”

Oakley and BP Global both said they were “shocked” by the news, but both declined to comment further, citing the investigation.

Nike and Oakley recently dropped disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong after it became clear he lied about using performance enhancing drugs. But the two marketers and Pistorius’ others sponsors in South Africa and Europe will have to navigate very deep waters, said Eric Dezenhall, author of “Damage Control.”

O. J. Simpson is the most famous athletic endorser charged with murder. But Hertz dropped Mr. Simpson in late 1992 when reports surfaced of domestic-violence incidents between him and his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. So the deal was history when he was charged with murdering his estranged wife and Ron Goldman in 1994.

Other endorsers such as Mr. Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, and Kobe Bryant have lost sponsors due to their use of performance-enhancing drugs, engaging in extramarital affairs, running dog-fighting rings and being charged with sexual assault. But there’s few examples of American athletes in their prime charged with murder.

One would be wide receiver Rae Carruth of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, who was found guilty of conspiring to murder his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend in 2001. Cherica Adams died. But she lived long enough to finger Carruth after the 1999 shooting. Her unborn son, Chancellor Lee Adams, survived after an emergency caesarean section.

Linebacker Ray Lewis of the Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens was charged with two counts of murder in 2000. But the charges were reduced when he agreed to testify against his friends. When Mr. Lewis was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXV, Disney chose quarterback Trent Dilfer for its “I’m going to Disney World” ad campaign instead of the controversial Mr. Lewis.

Mr. Dezenhall, the crisis-management adviser, said he’d advise Pistorius’ sponsors to “express great distress,” then keep their mouths shut until they find out more facts. Meanwhile, he predicts Nike and other marketers will “chill out” on violent imagery in ads.

After Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Woods and others, the public is almost numb to athletic scandals. “Some of this celebrity malfeasance is kind of baked into the casserole at this point,” Mr. Dezenhall said.

 

 

 

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