BY: PAT VANHALL
Known by many as “Blade Runner” and “The Fastest Man on No Legs,” Oscar Pistorius is a double amputee that exemplified the phrase ‘Never Give Up.’ He has won 26 medals in the Paralympics; 23 of them were gold.[1. Oscar Pistorius – Achievements, Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Pistorius#Achievements (last visit February 28, 2013).] In 2008, he was selected as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people.[2. The 2008 TIME 100, TIME.com, http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1733748_1733756_1735285,00.html (last visit February 27, 2013).] This past summer in London he became the first amputee runner to compete at an Olympic Games.[3. Oscar Pistorius makes history, leaves without medal, usatoday.com, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/london/track/story/2012-08-10/4×400-relay-oscar-pistorius-south-afric/56946372/1 (last visit February 27, 2013).] Although he did not leave with a medal, he inspired the country of South Africa and people all over the world. He is a prominent name in the sport of track and field that has attracted the attention from sponsors and has become an ambassador for multiple charitable organizations.[4. Charities, oscarpistorius.com, http://oscarpistorius.com/category/charities/ (last visit February 27, 2013).] However, all of those positive and exceptional accomplishments have taken a back seat to a new title that he received; Alleged Murderer.
On February 14, 2013, Pistorius was arrested at his home in South Africa for the murder of his supermodel girlfriend Reeva Steencamp.[5. Oscar Pistorius: A rolling timeline, salon.com, http://www.salon.com/2013/02/22/oscar_pistorius_a_rolling_timeline/ (last visit February 28, 2013).] It is alleged that he shot her multiple times after an argument in their home. Pistorius claims that he mistook her for an intruder in the middle of the night and shot through the door of their bathroom only to discover that it was Steencamp.[6. Id.] Prosecutors presented facts to corroborate the charge of premeditated murder and after a lengthy 4-day bail hearing, Pistorius was granted bail.[7. Id.] The next trial date has been set for early June, but it appears as though many people have already taken sides.
While Pistorius will be afforded due process and is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law, his corporate sponsors have already suspended their contracts with Pistorius. Unfortunately, they cannot afford the bad publicity that comes with sponsoring an alleged murderer. Pistorius makes about $2 million annually through his sponsorships (with companies like Nike, Oakley, Thierry Mugler, etc.) and all but one company has already suspended or withdrawn its contract.[8. Nike severs payments to Oscar Pistorius and suspends its endorsement contract with him, telegraph.co.uk, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/telegraphsportnews/9885029/Nike-severs-payment-to-Oscar-Pistorius-and-suspends-its-endorsement-contract-with-him.html (last visit February 28, 2013).] Some sponsors say that they are only temporarily suspending their contract with Pistorius while more facts come to light as they continue to monitor the situation closely.[9. Nike suspends Oscar Pistorius deal, espn.com, http://espn.go.com/olympics/trackandfield/story/_/id/8969745/nike-suspends-contract-oscar-pistorius (last visit February 28, 2013).] Others have referenced the sympathy that they must show to the families involved in the tragedy.[10. Id.] Pistorius likely has no remedy or defense for the suspension of his contracts, as a felony charge by itself is considered a material breach that is included in most boilerplate termination clauses, allowing the sponsor to suspend or terminate the contract.
Some Nike ads were pulled for an additional reason. In these ads Pistorius is likened to a “bullet in the chamber” due to the fast speed in which he runs.[11. Nike bullet ad with Pistorius backfires, cnn.com, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/02/14/business/pistorius-nike (last visit March 1, 2013).] For obvious reasons these ads were some of the first to get pulled. Whether or not it seems fair for sponsors to rush to judgment, it is a risk that famous athletes take when entering into these contracts. A sponsor is attaching its company name or logo to the athlete’s image so that it is now the athlete’s responsibility to represent himself /herself and his/her sponsors with the upmost class and respect. If that image is tarnished in any way, the sponsor will have just cause for termination. Regardless of the verdict, Pistorius’s image, which became famous for inspiring the world with his spirit and athletic ability, will be tarnished forever.