Nike Reverses Course, Suspends NFL Star Adrian Peterson

Compared to Previous Incidents, Company's Response Is Relatively Rapid

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Adrian Peterson for Nike
Adrian Peterson for Nike

Just hours after the Minnesota Vikings reversed course and barred star running back Adrian Peterson from the team amid allegations of child abuse, Nike did an about-face as well.

The world's largest sporting-goods maker suspended its endorsement contract with Mr. Peterson around noon in New York, about 12 hours after saying he remained a Nike athlete and that it would continue to sell his merchandise. The Vikings, under pressure from fans, sponsors and politicians including Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken, earlier today reversed a decision to let him play Sunday.

"Nike in no way condones child abuse or domestic violence of any kind and has shared our concerns with the NFL," KeJuan Wilkins, a spokesman for the Beaverton, Ore.-based company, said today in an e-mailed statement. He declined to answer any further questions.

Nike's decision on Mr. Peterson contrasts with how the company handled its relationship with former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Nike terminated an endorsement deal with Mr. Rice on Sept. 9, a day after the Ravens cut him from the team following the online release of a video showing him punching his then-fiancee unconscious.

Pictures showing the aftermath of Mr. Peterson's alleged abuse of his 4-year-old son have appeared on the Internet as well. He was indicted on Sept. 12 on a charge of hitting his child with a branch. Mr. Peterson, who faces as long as two years in prison if convicted of the charge, apologized in a statement for hurting his son and said he's not a child abuser.

Mr. Peterson is considered a bigger star than Mr. Rice. The Vikings player was named the National Football League's Most Valuable Player in 2012, when he became just the seventh player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.

Nike has a history of maintaining relationships with star athletes when controversies prompt other sponsors to sever ties. The company stood by basketball player Kobe Bryant and golfer Tiger Woods following reports of infidelity.

Nike has said the use of performance-enhancing drugs are a reason to sever ties. Nike terminated a deal with bicyclist Lance Armstrong after he admitted doping. Last year it released Major League Baseball player Ryan Braun, a former National League MVP, after he was suspended for drug violations.

According to ESPN, Nike last week terminated its contract with Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who was convicted of "culpable homicide" in the death of his wife. Nike had suspended Mr. Pistorius in February of 2013 when he was first charged.

The Vikings had deactivated Mr. Peterson for last week's NFL game. Two days ago, the team reinstated him and said they expected him to play in this week against the New Orleans Saints.

Mr. Peterson said he was disciplining his son the same way he'd been reprimanded as a child growing up in East Texas. The grand jury in Montgomery County, north of Houston, determined the discipline wasn't reasonable given the injuries inflicted on the boy, and Mr. Peterson was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Peterson's initial court date is scheduled for Oct. 8, with an arraignment in the Ninth District Court in Montgomery County.

The NFL Players Association said Mr. Peterson, who has a base salary of $11.75 million this season, agreed to the voluntary leave and will continue to be paid while away from the team.

--Bloomberg News

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