Nike withdrew its offer to sponsor a top American pole-vaulter this week after he placed tape over the company’s swoosh logo on his shoes during a recent competition.
Brad Walker said he was using tape to tighten his shoes, not to take a swipe at Nike.
The pole-vaulter, Brad Walker, who holds the United States record in the event, said he was not taking a swipe at Nike but was making sure that a Velcro strap stayed tight, an adjustment he said he had frequently made in the past.
Nike, however, took umbrage at his decision, he said.
“Big no no,” Walker wrote in a Facebook post Thursday. “I am no longer a Nike athlete because while trying to use one of their products, I had to use tape to hold together a shoe that shouldn’t break down within 6 months.”
Walker had been negotiating a sponsorship contract with Nike for some time, but he said he was not satisfied with the size of the offer.
The clash over the swoosh logo brought attention to athletes in nonmainstream events, like the pole vault, who often struggle to attract hefty endorsement contracts similar to those given to gold medalists like the swimmer Michael Phelps. Several athletes, including those in track and field, have criticized an International Olympic Committee rule that limits how they can promote their sponsors, hampering their ability to earn money, the athletes say.
“I think there’s a general misunderstanding that Olympic athletes are doing fine,” Walker said in an interview. “There’s no money in the sport anymore, and the shoe company deals reflect that. Basically, it’s getting to the point where it’s hard to make a living in the sport, and unfortunately the sport is dying a slow death.”
He added, “I’m the best vaulter in the U.S., and if I can’t get a contract that allows me to live and pay for my training, who in the U.S. can?”
Nike declined to specify why it withdrew its offer, but the company said: “We can confirm an offer was made and the athlete did not take up this option in a timely manner. We wish Brad all the best and continued success.”
Walker said he regularly put tape on his shoes to improve the grip during his approach, as he did at the world track and field championships in Moscow this week. Over the years, Walker said, he has complained about the lack of Velcro stickiness on his shoes, particularly when the shoes get chalk dust on them.
Walker, who trains in Arizona, finished fourth at the world championships, with 5.82 meters. He won gold at the world championships in Osaka, Japan, in 2007.
He said he went public about the Nike conflict to bring attention to the financial challenges facing track and field athletes. He said he planned to go on eBay and sell all of his Nike clothing and shoes — Olympic jackets, vault spikes, training shoes and more.
“Nike and I don’t have a partnership,” Walker said. “So I don’t really want their stuff anymore.”