Mason Greenwood, the 20-year-old striker for Manchester United, has been suspended by the club. The likes of Nike and EA Sports have halted or terminated his endorsement contracts.
Greenwood is in a tight corner because of arrests for rape and assault in January, and subsequently for sexual assault and threats to kill.
Greenwood is on bail and has not been charged. Should United and Greenwood’s sponsors not presume him innocent for the time being? By young-player-speak, “mans is not even in court yet, fam!” Surely, his contracts should continue unless and until he is found guilty by a court of law?
Alas, it is not so simple as the presumption of innocence in such matters. Often, it comes down to a clause in sports and endorsement contracts which permit their suspension or termination if the player is accused of moral turpitude.
Morality—not to be confused with Morata—or morals clauses, as they are called, have evolved over time to give firms the unfettered discretion to act against contracted athletes on the mere allegation of impropriety rather than conviction. Phrases such as “involvement in any situation or occurrence bringing the company, in its judgment, into disrepute” are included to afford firms wide latitude once a scandal comes to light.
However, the higher the star power of an athlete, the more likely it is that the expression or enforcement of the clause will be watered down. From America, the world’s litigation haven, come many examples.
In 1997, Fila terminated its endorsement contract with NBA star, Chris Webber, after he was stopped at U.S. Customs for marijuana possession and had to pay a $500 penalty. Webber sued Fila, and won a large settlement, on the ground that the morals clause in his contract covered only convictions.
Webber claimed the bag was not his but a girlfriend’s. Since retiring, he has worked as a university professor teaching sports storytelling(!) and launched a fund for investing in cannabis.
Tiger Woods lost many endorsees in the wake of marital cheating allegations in 2009 but not Nike which nonetheless punished him by cutting some small change—$20 million—from his contract over the next two years. Nike would carefully distinguish their treatment of Woods from that of Lance Armstrong, whom they cut completely, on the basis that the latter’s doping concerned his sporting performance.
After the late Kobe Bryant faced sexual assault allegations in 2003, McDonald’s and Ferrero Chocolates declined to extend their multimillion endorsements on expiration but did not invoke morality clauses. Nike soldiered on with Kobe, leading to conjecture that his contract, reportedly worth $45 million over five seasons, did not even contain a morality clause.
Mason (“Who???”) is neither Tiger nor Kobe so Nike’s brandishing of a red card is hardly surprising in his case. He may be entitled to all the presumption of innocence in the world but morality clauses, in lingo from London’s “ends,” have no “time for waste yute.”
Speaking of which, next man on the verge of finding out about the clauses and zero tolerance might be Kurt Zouma, the West Ham defender, innit? Who kicks a cat, fam, and posts it on Snapchat? Yard’s in London not Bangui. Wah’gwan?