It’s been almost a year since adidas announced that it had cut ties with Kayne West due to his antisemitic comments, and while you would think that the shoe company — founded by a literal Nazi — would be happy to see the controversy disappear in the rearview mirror as soon as possible, CEO Bjørn Gulden has actually managed to not only bring it up again, but to make the company look even worse with his comments.
Speaking on a recent episode of the Norwegian podcast In Good Company, Gulden seemed to make light of West’s offensive language, and suggested that the rapper “didn’t mean” what he had said. Going further, he highlighted the “very sad” loss of business that adidas experienced after ending the partnership.
“I think Kanye West is one of the most creative people in the world,” Gulden said (via The Guardian). “Both in music and what I call street culture. So, he’s extremely creative and has, together with Adi, created a Yeezy line that was very successful. And then, as creative people, he did some statements, which wasn’t that good. And that caused Adi to break the contract and withdraw the product. Very unfortunate, because I don’t think he meant what he said and I don’t think he’s a bad person — it just came across that way.”
It’s hard to understand where Gulden is coming from with this. He became the CEO of adidas in November 2022 — shortly after the partnership with West dissolved — and has made comments acknowledging the harm West caused with his remarks. “There is no place in sport or society for hate of any kind and we remain committed to fighting against it,” he said in May when adidas announced that it would sell off the remaining stock of Yeezy products, donating a “significant amount” of the proceeds to groups that combat hate speech.
However, Gulden’s willingness to rehabilitate West’s image seems to suggest that maybe he doesn’t care about “fighting against” hate speech all that much after all. In reality, the reason for Gulden’s attitude is probably the same reason why adidas founder Adi Dassler joined the Nazi party in the first place: money. While the leadership and culture of adidas has certainly changed since those early days, the company’s commitment to the bottom line hasn’t, and that seems to be the main point of focus for Gulden in regard to the whole West affair.
“[Ending the partnership with West] meant we lost that business,” he said on In Good Company. “[The partnership was] one of the most successful collabs in history — very sad. But again, when you work with third parties, that could happen. It’s part of the game. That can happen with an athlete, it can happen with an entertainer. It’s part of the business.” Listen to the full podcast for his full comments below.
It’s true, adidas did lose income after they ended the seven-year-long partnership with West, and reported a $432 million drop in sales for the first quarter of 2023. Nonetheless, that “very unfortunate” occurrence pales in comparison to the potential impact of West — and now, Gulden’s — comments. It’s hard to argue that adidas losing income is even “sad” at all considering the company’s conduct throughout the entire West affair, which includes getting called out by the Anti-Defamation League after dragging its feet to end the partnership and the reality that West still receives a 15% royalty cut on Yeezy sales.
Meanwhile, West has been keeping a relatively low profile since losing his billionaire status last year in the aftermath of his comments. In March, he claimed to no longer be antisemitic because the now-also-disgraced Jonah Hill’s performance in 21 Jump Street “made [him] like Jewish people again.” The following month, his Christian prep school, Donda Academy, came under fire when a lawsuit accused the school of “unlawful educational practices,” and alleged that chairs, colors, and all food except sushi were banned on its premises.
In May, West’s ex-wife Kim Kardashian went scorched-earth on him, distancing herself from his actions and denouncing his behavior as “damaging” to their children. At this rate, someone ought to get Kardashian and Gulden in a conversation, and maybe she can talk some sense into him.