OPINION: Adidas ignored hate in pursuit of profit. 76 years later, it needed a second lesson

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

OPINION: Adidas ignored hate in pursuit of profit. 76 years later, it needed a second lesson

The sportswear giant only acted against Kanye west after its stock price plummeted by 15 percent in five days, says Daniel Sugarman

Kanye West

Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Kanye West Photo credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

It starts, and ends, with shoes.

In the wake of the First World War, a young German man called Adolf – ‘Adi’ – Dassler repaired shoes, subsequently managing to develop his business into a full-scale factory specialising in athletic footwear. By the late 1920s, Dassler’s shoes were already being used in national and international sporting competitions.

In 1933, when the Nazis swept to power, Adolf Dassler didn’t hesitate to get behind Adolf Hitler. He joined the Nazis and volunteered as an adult leader for the Hitler Youth. When war broke out, the Dassler factories churned out shoes for the Wehrmacht. Later in the war, they were transformed into producing anti-tank weapons instead.

After the war, Dassler switched to supplying shoes to the American forces occupying West Germany. His business, named Adidas – a shortening of his own name – continued to thrive, becoming the world’s second largest sportswear manufacturer.

Fast forward to 2015. Adidas launches its collaboration with rapper Kanye West, a line of shoes known as ‘Yeezy’s’, after one of the musician’s nicknames. The shoe line is a massive hit. In 2019 alone, sales of Yeezy’s generated $1.3bn in revenue.

The company works hard to identify itself as one that fights back against bigotry. In 2016, it publicly introduces clauses into its contracts designed to protect LGBT sportspeople; prior to that, athletes who came out would often see sports sponsorships downgraded or cancelled.

In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, the company pledges $120m to combat anti-black racism, saying, “It’s time to own up to our silence.” When a series of attacks target Asian Americans in 2021, Adidas was there, sharing the #StopAsianHate hashtag.

So on 7 October 2022, when Kanye West (now known as Ye), began making antisemitic comments, it was reasonable to expect some response from the company.


Over the next two weeks, Ye keeps making antisemitic comments, so much so that he’s banned from mainstream social media platforms. He gives numerous interviews where he launches into antisemitic rants.

From Adidas? Nothing.

People start to notice Adidas’s silence. They begin publicly to ask why, given its previous admirable stances, it has not acted. Ye addresses the issue on 20 October, stating publicly that he can say antisemitic things and Adidas can’t fire him.

Adidas doesn’t fire him.

Celebrities, with millions of social media followers, start picking up on this, asking variations on the same question. How can Adidas continue to ignore this? Is it having trouble hearing the roar of the crowd over the sound of its revenue stream?

In what can only be described as excruciating irony, a Jewish employee of Adidas reveals that the week of 20 October has been the company’s ‘global week of inclusion’.

“I am feeling anything but included,” she says. “I can no longer stay quiet on behalf of the brand that employs me. Not saying anything is saying everything.”

Neo-Nazis across America gleefully seize on Ye’s comments, flying supportive signs on bridges over highways. Other companies previously involved with Ye back away. But everybody knows his most lucrative deal, that made him a billionaire, is his partnership with Adidas. They’re waiting for a shoe company to stop dragging its feet. To step up. Nothing.

The leaders of all of the major Jewish organisations in North America repeatedly call for action. Nothing. Adidas’s stock price plummets by 15 percent in five days.

At which point the company finally acts, saying it’s cutting ties with Ye.

Too little, too late.  There’s an old Yiddish proverb, which translates as follows: “Some people are like new shoes; the cheaper they are, the louder they squeak.”

Despite its previous admirable – and widely publicised – actions in confronting bigotry, when the firm faced a serious test, it failed.

Adi Dassler joined the Nazi Party months after it came to power, sensing that this was a smart business move. In 1946, he found himself attempting to explain to a de-Nazification panel that he had actually ended up losing more than 100,000 marks in the latter stages of the war.

He discovered that ignoring antisemitism in pursuit of profit doesn’t pay. 76 years later, his company appears to have needed a second lesson.

• Daniel is director of public affairs at the Board of Deputies.


Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: