On Saying Nothing and Just Wearing the Shoes

Adidas, the athletic shoe and apparel  company, had a decade long relationship with rapper Kanye West (Now “Ye”). West’s shoes in the Adidas line (Yeezys) brought the company a billion dollars in sales.

The relationship ended in October 2022 following Ye’s very public inflammatory antisemitic remarks.  Adidas terminated Ye and stopped selling Yeezys.

What has since emerged is that Adidas tolerated behind-closed-doors conduct of Ye throughout the partnership.  Megan Twomey, “Money, Misconduct and the Price of Appeasement,”  New York Times, October 29, 2023, p. A1.

Here is a list of some of the behaviors Adidas executives and employees tolerated to maintain the relationship with the rapper whose name sold shoes:

  1.  In 2013 he required executives to watch pornography in his Manhattan apartment because he told them that it sparked creativity.  That perhaps explains the plastic Yeezy that Adidas designed and released.  The shoes looked like a pair of Crocks that had been run through a shredder.
  2. He told a Jewish Adidas manager to kiss a picture of Hitler every day.
  3. He disclosed to a member of the  Adidas executive board that he had made a seven-figure settlement with one of his own employees for praising the architect of the Holocaust.
  4. His sexually explicit and abusive language resulted in ongoing Adidas employee complaints.

Adidas and Ye signed a new contract in 2016 that included a “moral clause.”  Moral clauses are the means by which companies can rid themselves of spokespersons whose conduct damages the company’s name and/or brand.  Morals clauses have tanked contracts of many celebrities including Paul Deen, Tiger Woods, and Michael Jackson.

After tough negotiations, there was a morals clause in place, but then-Kanye went off the rails.  He made statements that angered and offended even his fans.  Yet Adidas took no action.  Adidas CEO explained on CNBC, “Kanye has helped us have a great comeback in the U.S.  We’re not signing up to his statements.  We’re signing unto what he brings to the brand and the product he’s bringing out.”

In the mean time, Adidas was rotating people who worked with Kanye because of his statements and the toxicity he brought into the company. And the Kanye statements got worse until he posted in October 2022, “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”

Finally, Adidas ended the partnership.  Adidas employees said that their executives knew about Kanye’s behavior but had “turned their moral compasses off.” For about a decade.  In the first meeting Kanye had with Adidas executives, they showed him a shoe design for his name.  He took the design photo and drew a swastika on it.  The German executives should have stopped there. Saying nothing only leads to bolder actions.  Eventually the Kanye behaviors went public.  With much consternation, Adidas ended the relationship after saying nothing for far too long.

Oh, and one more thing. Following losses in 2022, Adidas resumed sale of the shoes.  Seems we all have a tolerance level for antisemitism, sexual harassment, and the outrageous when we like the shoes.  Yes, the anti-morality shoe fits.  Wear it with pride.


About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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