Nike has terminated its relationship with Manny Pacquiao, the champion boxer who is campaigning for the Senate in the Philippines, one day after he publicly apologized for calling people in gay relationships “worse than animals” during an interview with a local broadcaster.“We find Manny Pacquiao’s comments abhorrent,” Nike said in a statement. “Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community.“We no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao.”
Pacquiao, 37, a born-again Christian and second-term congressman in the Philippines, had a lucrative sponsorship deal with Nike for many years, but by Wednesday night the company had removed all of his branded merchandise from its online store.
Outrage over Pacquiao’s remarks began to spread on Monday, when a video of him criticizing gay people during an interview with TV5, a Philippine network, was shared widely online.“It’s common sense. Do you see animals mating with the same sex?” he said in the interview. “Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female. If men mate with men and women mate with women, they are worse than animals.”
Pacquiao’s comments drew swift condemnation from gay rights groups, celebrities and fellow politicians in the Philippines, where Senate elections are scheduled for May. On Tuesday, he responded to the wave of criticism with a videotaped apology he posted to social media.
“I’m sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals,” he said, wearing a T-shirt with a prominent Nike logo on the chest. “Please forgive me for those I’ve hurt. I still stand on my belief that I’m against same-sex marriage because of what the Bible says, but I’m not condemning L.G.B.T. I love you all with the love of the Lord. God bless you all, and I’m praying for you.”
That apology appears to have been insufficient for Nike, the world’s largest sports apparel brand and a supporter of several L.G.B.T. groups.
The retailer found itself in an awkward position once before over Pacquiao’s disapproval of homosexuality. In 2012, an article about his opposition to same-sex marriage included a biblical verse that suggests gay men should be put to death. The language was inserted by the author, not Pacquiao, but anger over the article led to an online petition calling on Nike to drop the boxer.
Pacquiao, who has won championships in eight weight classes, is revered in the Philippines for both his athletic success and his personal story, rising from poverty to international stardom and political office.
He has consistently performed well in the polls in his race for one of the country’s 24 Senate seats, which some observers predict he would one day use as a springboard to a presidential bid.
This week, though, political rivals seized on his comments about gay people and crafted them into attacks.
“That statement was below the belt,” Neri Colmenares, a Congressman from the left-wing Bayan Muna party told The Manila Times. He said Pacquiao “should stop adding to the discrimination problem.”
It remained to be seen what effect the remarks would have in the politics of the Philippines, a deeply Catholic country.
Speaking to The Associated Press, the fight promoter Bob Arum, who works with Pacquiao, said the comments were a campaign tactic meant to fire up his conservative supporters and win votes.
“What he said is completely for home consumption for Filipinos wrestling with the question of legalizing same sex marriage,” Arum said.
Boxing has remained an important source of income and prestige for Pacquiao as his political career has advanced, although he recently said that he would retire from the sport this year.
He lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr., last May in a bout that shattered Pay-Per-View records and brought Pacquiao a paycheck estimated to be worth more than $100 million. He is currently training for an April 9 fight with Timothy Bradley that he says will be his last.