Nike suspends mega-deal with Maria Sharapova after failed drug test

(Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports)

Susan Mullane/Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

In a swift and surprising move, Nike suspended its relationship with the biggest female athlete in the world, Maria Sharapova, just hours after the tennis player announced she has tested positive for an illegal heart drug, meldonium.

Said the apparel giant in a brief statement:

Sharapova brings in a reported $30 million per year in endorsements, much of that from Nike, with whom she has a reported $70 million deal. She’s also endorsed by Porsche, Tag-Heuer, Avon and Cole Haan and also has her own candy line.

The key word in the statement, of course, is "suspend." Nike has cut ties with a number of athletes before, only to see them back with the Swoosh once the bad vibes stop swirling. But it’s telling that Nike announced this so quickly, given that there wasn’t much, if any, clamoring for such a move. The general feeling (if there was one; I can’t imagine many people thought about this already) was that endorsers would let things play out.

(KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

This was especially true with Nike, a company known for its loyalty, having controversially stood by Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger through arguably worse times and even re-signing Michael Vick after dumping him following his incarceration on dog fighting charges. Justin Gatlin, the track star who’s a multiple drug cheat, is also back with the company.

That’s why this suspension is unlikely to last unless there’s far more to this story than just one positive test. Sharapova is one of Nike’s gems. She’ll be back. And if she’s not wearing a swoosh at her next Grand Slam then I’ll wear Fila for an entire year.