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Antisemites rally around Kanye West as pressure mounts on Adidas to drop him

The German sportswear giant aligned with his Yeezy brand is fast becoming his only business partner left

Kanye West poses at an event in Hollywood to announce a new partnership with Adidas in 2016. (Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images)

Pressure mounted on Monday for sportswear giant Adidas to sever ties with rapper and fashion designer Ye, the artist better known as Kanye West, after weeks of antisemitic comments.

In Los Angeles on Sunday, a hate group hung a banner on a highway overpass reading, “Honk if you know Kanye is right about the Jews,” while offering Nazi salutes to traffic. A picture of the incident went viral, prompting celebrities and other public figures to call out the German company over its partnership with the artist and his wildly popular Yeezy brand.

But Adidas has instead set release dates for the new line of Yeezy sneakers, even after Ye floated terminating the endorsement deal himself and disparaged company executives by name.

Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt told The Washington Post that he held a number of conversations with senior Adidas executives and shareholders over the weekend to discuss Ye. The response was “insufficient,” Greenblatt said.

“At this point we are kind of flummoxed how Adidas has dropped the ball and failed to make a clear and cogent statement about their values,” he said. “Antisemitism should be unacceptable in any circumstance. The fact that Adidas has not made that simple point is shocking when one considers Adidas’s history as a company that once outfitted the Hitler Youth.”

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The partnership between artist and sportswear giant began in 2013, made Ye a billionaire and helped Adidas reach a new customer base, one that Morningstar analyst David Swartz says helped generate the company an estimated $2 billion a year, or nearly 10 percent of its annual revenue.

But like most major retailers, Adidas also is drowning in excess inventory. Its business in China is also rapidly declining, leading the company to announce Thursday that it had lowered its profitability outlook for 2022.

The company has been reviewing its partnership with Ye for three weeks, after he donned a “WHITE LIVES MATTER” shirt at Paris Fashion Week, then threatened to “Go death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE” in a tweet. He was later locked out of his Twitter and Instagram accounts for violating their terms of use policies.

Over the weekend, footage resurfaced on Twitter of an interview taped in early October in which Ye gloated: “I can say antisemitic things and Adidas can’t drop me. Now what?” The episode of the podcast “Drink Champs” was subsequently pulled because Ye also espoused disinformation about the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody.

And leaked video of his interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, released by Motherboard earlier this month, showed the artist using antisemitic language, suggesting his kids should learn about Hanukkah and not Kwanzaa because “at least it would come with some financial engineering.”

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The fallout continued when a producer of “The Shop,” an unscripted series on HBO hosted by LeBron James, told Andscape that the show had cut its episode with Ye, citing his use of “hate speech and extremely dangerous stereotypes.”

But Adidas, whose founders had ties to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, has been silent on the relationship even as other companies have taken action. On Friday, the French fashion house Balenciaga ended its partnership with Ye.

On Monday, the talent agency CAA dropped Ye as a client, citing his antisemitic rants, while Hollywood financier and producer MRC shelved a documentary on him that already was in production. In a news release, it said Ye had “sampled and remixed a classic tune that has charted for over 3,000 years, the lie that Jews are evil and conspire to control the world for their own gain.”

Gap and Ye, which had plans to open stand-alone Yeezy stores, split in September, a division long sought by the artist and one that predated his most recent behavior. Gap, however, continues to feature Yeezy products for sale on its website and hyped the launch of a new hoodie on Friday in an email marketing push. Gap spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

Adidas representatives also did not respond to requests for comment nor offer public remarks to other news outlets or on company social media. The company typically does not comment on Ye and his stunts, like when he said slavery was a choice and publicly disparaged the chief executive. Swartz, the Morningstar analyst, believes Adidas is sticking to this strategy but warns that it will not work this time.

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Ye “is becoming more incendiary … it is close to the point where it is not viable anymore,” Swartz said. And while it is hard to speculate what the thinking is at Adidas, “it is clearly something they do not really want to face,” he added. “But they have to.”

Then there are practical considerations. A breakup of this magnitude is complicated, Swartz said. Production plans are made far in advance, often taking six to 18 months between the time an item is designed, manufactured, shipped and released for sale.

“They cannot suddenly stop all their plans for Yeezy shoes,” he said. “It is not easy to stop without a huge loss, which clearly is something Adidas does not want at the moment given their other problems.”

But now the company is coming under fire from high-profile artists and business leaders. A Sunday tweet by actress Kat Dennings seemed to sum up the sentiment: “The world is watching, @adidas.” Actress and director America Ferrera called on Adidas to drop Ye in an Instagram post, adding: “Do not amplify that man’s influence.”

Comedian and actor Josh Gad posted on Twitter: “This is not a good person. This is a person who’s dangerous rhetoric continues to go unchecked. Hey @adidas, is this right? Can he single out a single faith and group of people with hatred and vitriol and it doesn’t matter? Asking for a friend.”

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Alexander Vindman, a former White House national security official and a key figure in the first impeachment of President Donald Trump, tweeted: “I’m a little shocked that @adidas has still made no statement denouncing hate and antisemitism, let alone firing @kanyewest’s ass. Adidas seems more than happy to accept” being branded “a hate supporting company.”

Meanwhile, in an editorial for the Financial Times, the chief executive of the Endeavor entertainment and media agency said companies that work with Ye, including Adidas, Spotify and Apple, should end their deals.

“Those who continue to do business with West are giving his misguided hate an audience,” Ari Emanuel wrote. “There should be no tolerance anywhere for West’s antisemitism. This is a moment in history where the stakes are high and being open about our values, and living them, is essential. Silence and inaction are not an option.”

Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League chief executive, said celebrities, athletes, sports leagues and others in business with Adidas should demand it dismiss Ye or abandon their own partnerships. Adidas manufactures uniforms for the National Hockey League; sponsors dozens of professional basketball, baseball, football and soccer players; and outfits dozens of top-tier college athletic departments. Along with Ye, it has major fashion collaborations with Beyoncé and Bad Bunny.

“I think entertainers, leagues, teams, universities all need to ask themselves what does it mean to be in partnership with a company like Adidas, which refuses to step up and reject anti-Jewish hate,” Greenblatt said.