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:
- 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.
- He told a Jewish Adidas manager to kiss a picture of Hitler every day.
- 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.
- 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.