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Calls grow to boycott Adidas as the company stays silent on Ye's antisemitism

Ye, then known as Kanye West, holds a Yeezy sneaker while speaking onstage at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in 2019.
Brad Barket
Getty Images for Fast Company
Ye, then known as Kanye West, holds a Yeezy sneaker while speaking onstage at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in 2019.

People are calling for Adidas to end its working relationship with Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, in response to the numerous offensive and antisemitic remarks the rapper has made in recent weeks.

Ye has faced some consequences for his comments: Both Twitter and Instagram have restricted his accounts (now he says he plans to purchase far-right-friendly social media site Parler), and Balenciaga fashion house is reportedly cutting ties with him. Prominent Hollywood agency CAA, which has represented Ye since 2016, ended its relationship with him this month, the Los Angeles Times reported midday Monday. And George Floyd's family plans to sue him over comments he made on a podcast.

The German footwear giant said at the start of this month that its partnership was under review — but since then has not issued any updates and continues to release new Yeezy merchandise, even as the rapper doubles down on antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories.

He appeared to boast about that fact in a since-removed Oct. 16 episode of the podcast Drink Champs, a clip of which has circulated widely on social media in recent days.

"The thing about me and Adidas is like, I can literally say anti-semitic s**t, and they can't drop me," Ye says, before repeating himself slowly and solemnly. "I can say anti-Semitic things, and Adidas can't drop me. Now what? Now what?"

That question was answered ominously over the weekend, when a group of people hung antisemitic banners — including one reading "Kanye is right about the Jews" — and raised their arms in apparent Nazi salutes over a busy Los Angeles freeway. A banner used the name of an organization that has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as an antisemitic hate group. Authorities are also investigating antisemitic fliers distributed in Beverly Hills that same weekend.

Those incidents come at a time of rising antisemitism in the U.S., as the ADL notes in a campaign urging people to "tell Adidas to run away from hate."

"While Adidas has refused to condemn Kanye West's antisemitism, hate groups like White Lives Matter and the Goyim Defense League are celebrating and promoting Ye's comments to further their extremist agendas," the organization wrote, calling his behavior "dangerous."

Scores of critics are now urging Adidas to drop Ye and distance itself from his hateful views. Their current contract is said to run through 2026.

More than 90,000 people have signed a Change.org petition urging the company to cut ties with Ye, and the hashtag #BoycottAdidas has been trending on Twitter for days. Public figures from David Schwimmer to Alexander Vindman have called Adidas out, and United Talent Agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer reportedly issued a company-wide memo condemning antisemitism and urging employees to "support the boycott of Kanye West."

Adidas did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.

Adidas and Ye have collaborated for nearly a decade

Adidas and Ye — who released his first Air Yeezy sneakers with other brands in the aughts — have been working together since 2013, and formalized their partnership about two years later.

The Yeezy collaboration is best known for its lineup of sneakers, but also includes clothing, lingerie and other footwear. And it's a lucrative one: It generates an estimated $2 billion a year — nearly 10% of the company's annual revenue — as Morningstar analyst David Swartz told The Washington Post.

Ye has grown increasingly vocal in his critiques of Adidas and its leadership in recent months, accusing it of copying his ideas and not giving him enough control over the line. (He ended his partnership with The Gap in September over similar claims). He also posted pictures of Adidas board members to social media, including a doctored image of a New York Times page falsely claiming outgoing CEO Kasper Rorsted had died.

In early October, Ye made headlines for a series of controversies, including wearing a "WHITE LIVES MATTER" t-shirt at his fashion show in Paris and promising to go "death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE" in a series of antisemitic social media posts.

Adidas told media outlets on Oct. 6 that it was evaluating its partnership with Ye.

"After repeated efforts to privately resolve the situation, we have taken the decision to place the partnership under review," it said in a statement, adding that it and Ye would continue to jointly manage Yeezy's shoes and apparel lines during the preview process.

Ye, whose net worth is estimated around $2 billion, would almost certainly lose his billionaire status if dropped by the company, according to Forbes.

Adidas releases new Yeezy products despite its review

To the dismay of critics, Adidas hasn't only been silent about Ye, but is continuing to release new merchandise from their collaboration.

Even as calls grew for Adidas to ditch Ye, and for consumers to ditch Adidas, the company releasedthe Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 in a brand new color ("salt") over the weekend. They appear to be sold out on Adidas' website, and by Monday morning had been bought and resold nearly 900 times on the online reseller marketplace Stockx, Fortune reports.

In an open letter to Adidas' leadership, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says the group is particularly alarmed to see that the company is planning to release new Yeezy products (including the Yeezy Boost 350) in the run-up to the Oct. 27 anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre — the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.

"...We are surprised and concerned that Adidas – a brand that supports inclusion and diversity – continues not only to support the Ye product line, but to release new products even as he continues to espouse hateful antisemitic ideas to his 31 million Twitter followers, and as those noxious ideas spread across social media and around the world thanks to his outsized media presence and celebrity status," he writes.

The ADL, which has tracked and analyzedYe's recent comments, is urging Adidas to reconsider its support for the Yeezy line as well as publicly condemn antisemitism.

Some on social media have expressed surprise that Adidas hasn't moved faster to make such a statement, given some of the darker parts of its past: Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, the feuding brothers who collectively founded Adidas and Puma, were members of the Nazi Party during World War II.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: October 23, 2022 at 9:00 PM PDT
This story has been corrected to make clear that United Talent Agency CEO Jeremy Zimmer's memo condemned anti-Semitism and that the ADL called on Adidas to publicly condemn anti-Semitism. The original version mistakenly used condoning and condone instead of condemn.
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.