FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) – Nike suspended its lucrative contract with Michael Vick on Friday, while Reebok took the unprecedented step of stopping sales of his No. 7 jersey.
In another dose of bad news for the indicted quarterback, a top trading card company announced it was pulling Vick’s likeness from any new packs.
Facing protests from animal-rights groups, Nike announced it was suspending Vick’s endorsement deal without pay, as well as halting sales of Vick-related shoes and other products at its retail stores.
“Nike is concerned by the serious and highly disturbing allegations made against Michael Vick, and we consider any cruelty to animals inhumane and abhorrent,” Nike spokesman Dean Stoyer said in a statement.
Canton, Mass.-based Reebok, the official uniform supplier of the NFL, said it would stop selling Vick’s replica jersey at retail stores and through its Web site.
Donruss, one of four major trading card companies, has decided to pull Vick’s card from any future 2007 releases, according to Beckett Media, which covers the collectibles industry.
All three hits came one day after the Atlanta Falcons quarterback pleaded not guilty to federal dogfighting charges in Richmond, Va. In the indictment, he was accused of sponsoring a gruesome operation that often shot, hanged, drowned or electrocuted losing dogs.
Since Vick has not been convicted of any crime, Nike left open the door to resume its business relationship with the star player if he’s acquitted. The company already had decided to suspend release of his fifth signature shoe, the Air Zoom Vick V.
“We do believe that Michael Vick should be afforded the same due process as any citizen in the United States,” the Nike statement said. “Therefore, we have not terminated our relationship.”
Vick signed with Nike in 2001, the same year Atlanta chose him as the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft pick. He led the Falcons to the NFC championship game during the 2004 season and last year became the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards.
Vick is barred from the Falcons’ training camp while the league investigates his actions for possible violations of its new personal conduct policy. He is set for trial Nov. 26 and faces up to five years in prison.
The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug search at a massive home Vick built in rural Virginia found 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment typically used in dogfighting. They included a “rape stand” that holds aggressive dogs in place for mating and a “breakstick” used to pry open a dog’s mouth.
PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – called off its planned protest at a dozen Niketown stores across the country next week.
“Regardless of Vick’s guilt or innocence in a court of law, the facts in this case clearly support this decision,” PETA said. “No company wants a spokesperson with a massive illegal dogfighting ring operating on his property, regardless of his level of involvement.”
The Humane Society of the United States said the companies couldn’t ignore the overwhelming opposition to having any association with Vick. He said some 165,000 e-mails were sent to Nike through the group’s Web site.
“I think there’s a direct relationship,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS. “We asked them to do this and the pressure continued to build, especially as the facts of the indictment came out. It simply became an untenable position.”
There was no immediate response from the Vick camp. An after-hours phone message was left with his agent, Joel Segal, while unsuccessful attempts were made to reach his new attorney, Billy Martin, by phone and e-mail.
Although Reebok does not have a business relationship with Vick, the Massachusetts-based company serves as the official supplier of apparel and equipment to all 32 NFL teams. Through that deal, it holds the coveted rights to sell jerseys at the retail level.
“We just find the allegations very upsetting and very disturbing,” Reebok spokeswoman Denise Kaigler said. “While this is just the beginning of the legal process and we know that it has to have time to run its course, we felt that making this decision now was important and the right things to do.”
Reebok said it also was willing to take back any unsold Vick jerseys that are returned by retail outlets.
Kaigler said she already had received numerous e-mails in support of the decision. Even though numerous NFL players have run afoul of the law, this is the first time Reebok has stopped sales of an individual jersey.
“The number of e-mails and statements we’re getting from consumers was pretty telling about how disturbing people find these allegations to be,” Kaigler said.
Beckett Media reported on its Web site that Donruss dropped Vick’s card at the behest of owner Ann Powell, whose five dogs accompany her to work every day and have virtually free reign inside the company’s headquarters.
“If anybody who knows about the current Vick situation knows Donruss, they know that this is a decision we had to make because of Ann and her love of dogs,” company spokesman Scott Prusha told the Web site. “This decision came straight from Ann.”
Donruss had an autograph agreement with Vick, and much of the company’s plans for the remainder of the year included the insertion of both autograph and memorabilia cards bearing the quarterback’s picture.
Prusha said that “wasn’t even a consideration. We met as a company and the idea was brought up to pull him. There was no opposition from anybody in the room.”