Adidas CEO says Kanye West didn’t mean his antisemitic comments

Bjørn Gulden laments lost business after sportswear giant dropped hip hop star for anti-Jewish rhetoric, says West is not a ‘bad person’

File: Kanye West watches an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, January 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
File: Kanye West watches an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, January 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

JTA — The new CEO of the athletic wear giant Adidas said he doesn’t believe the company’s former collaborator, Kanye West, “meant what he said” when the rapper went on a months-long series of antisemitic tirades that cost him the company’s endorsement last fall.

Bjørn Gulden, who joined Adidas from rival Puma in January after it had already dropped West, made his comments last week on a podcast hosted by Norwegian hedge fund manager and philanthropist Nicolai Tangen.

Adidas dropped West, who now goes by Ye, after weeks of public pressure that followed him tweeting that he was going “Death Con 3 on Jewish people” and saying on a podcast about the company, “I can literally say antisemitic [expletive] and they cannot drop me.”

In his latest comments, Gulden didn’t mention the reason behind the partnership ending, referring to West’s remarks as “some statements, which wasn’t that good. And that caused [Adidas] to break the contract and withdraw the product.”

He called the collapse of West’s Yeezy brand “very unfortunate, because I don’t think he meant what he said and I don’t think he’s a bad person. He just came across that way. And that meant we lost that business, one of the most successful collabs in the history. Very sad.”

An Adidas spokesperson told Bloomberg that the company’s position on ending the Yeezy partnership hasn’t changed. West himself has since announced that he no longer hates Jewish people after watching the Jewish actor Jonah Hill in the movie “21 Jump Street.”

The Yeezy brand collaboration was worth more than $1 billion and accounted for a significant share of Adidas’ revenue. The company is now stuck with a large surplus of Yeezy-branded merchandise. Gulden announced earlier this year that Adidas would sell off the products and donate the proceeds to “the organizations that are helping us and that were also hurt by Kanye’s comments.”

So far that plan has generated at least $400 million in revenue for the company, of which Gulden said it has donated at least $10 million to organizations including the Anti-Defamation League (whose CEO sported Adidas sneakers onstage once the company agreed to drop West and partner with them on new initiatives), Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism and the Philonise & Keeta Floyd Institute for Social Change.

The company expects its donations to anti-hate groups to ultimately exceed $100 million; West will also receive a portion of the proceeds from his royalties plan.

Also on the podcast, Gulden discussed the Dassler brothers who founded Adidas “during and after the Second World War,” without mentioning that the German brothers were Nazi Party members.

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