Nike dumps Pacquiao over 'abhorrent' anti-gay comments

Nike drops Manny Pacquiao sponsorship
Nike drops Manny Pacquiao sponsorship

Nike has severed its long-time sponsorship deal with famed Filipino boxer and lawmaker Manny Pacquiao after the athlete sparked outrage with anti-gay comments.

The 37-year-old world champion, who is running in May elections for a seat in the Philippines' Senate, told a local broadcaster that gay people were "worse than animals."

"It's just common sense. Do you see any animals of the same sex mating?" said Pacquiao, who already has a House of Representatives seat.

He subsequently posted an apology to YouTube, saying he was sorry for hurt he had caused, but also reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage, which is not permitted in the staunchly Roman Catholic country.

Nike, the world's largest apparel maker, cut ties with the boxer-turned-politician immediately.

"We find Manny Pacquiao's comments abhorrent," the company said in a statement.

Pacquiao had been with Nike for eight years, wearing shorts in the ring with the Nike swoosh.

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Pacquiao's promoter-manager Bob Arum told CNBC that Nike did the right thing.

"Why would they want to offend the gay and lesbian community. They sell product to everyone," Arum said.

The legendary promoter said that while he did not agree with Pacquiao's comments, he understood where they came from. He explained that Pacquiao was a recent convert to evangelical Christianity.

"In the Philippines where he is running for senate, most of the people are against same-sex marriage," Arum said.

The list of athletes that Nike has cut ties with is small, but in recent years has grown.

The company most recently severed its relationships with running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, sprinter Oscar Pistorious and cyclist Lance Armstrong.

"Nike and other brands today recognize that they aren't just talking to the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community but millennials and the next generation," said Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck Communications, which consults on LGBT issues.

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Witeck said Nike's actions could set a new standard under which athletes were judged.

"Nike is a brand trailblazer and I expect others to follow their actions," he added.

Pacquiao is scheduled to fight Tim Bradley on April 9 as part of the World Welterweight Championship on pay-per-view.

Arum said several sponsors who were ready to finalize their deals for the upcoming fight had since informed him they were no longer interested in being associated with the Filipino boxer.

But he doesn't expect the furor to have any impact on the number of people who tune in for what is likely to be Pacquiao's last fight.

"What he said is offensive to a lot of people and that is very unfortunate," Arum said. "On the other hand, that's his religious belief. He has the right to articulate it. If it hurts him, so be it."

Correction: An earlier version misspelled Bob Arum's last name and misspelled Pacquiao in one reference.

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