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Adidas boss says he doesn’t think Kanye West ‘meant’ antisemitic remarks

Adidas boss says he doesn’t think Kanye West ‘meant’ antisemitic remarks

Bjørn Gulden, the chief executive of sportswear brand Adidas, has claimed that Kanye West “didn’t mean” his antisemitic remarks last year.

The company ended its high-value partnership with West, legally known as Ye, in late 2022 after the “Jesus Walks” rapper made a string of antisemitic comments on social media and in interviews.

West, 46, wrote on Twitter/X in October that he was “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE”, in one of a series of posts that provoked wide and immediate backlash.

In a statement at the time, Adidas branded the remarks “unacceptable, hateful and dangerous”, adding that they “violate the company’s values of diversity and inclusion, mutual respect and fairness”.

The high-profile split between West and Adidas was written about extensively in the press at the time, and is said to have cost both parties hundreds of millions of dollars.

The abandonment of West’s popular Yeezy fashion line prompted a year-on-year drop in sales for Adidas of roughly £350m in the first quarter of 2023. At the time of the split with West, Adidas was also in possession of over £1bn worth of Yeezy stock. The company has stated that it intends to sell the unsold products with a “significant amount” of proceeds being donated to anti-hate speech organisations.

In December 2022, West recorded an interview with far-right radio host Alex Jones in which he was heard expressing praise for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. His account was also suspended from Twitter after West shared an image of a Swastica within the Star of David.

West moved his line of signature Yeezy trainers to Adidas in 2013, having previously partnered with Nike for the lucrative footwear brand.

Speaking on Norwegian podcast In Good Company, Gulden, who joined Adidas from rival sportswear brand Puma in January, discussed the matter of West.

“I think Kanye West is one of the most creative people in the world,” he said, “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 [sic] 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.”

Kanye West had a trainer brand deal with Adidas (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Archive)
Kanye West had a trainer brand deal with Adidas (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Archive)

The CEO went on to describe Adidas’s parting with West as “very sad”.

“That meant we lost that business,” he continued. “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.”

Around the same time West was dropped by Adidas, fashion brand Balenciaga and magazine Vogue also severed ties with the artist, as well as several other companies previously linked with West.

His comments were condemned by politicians and others in the entertainment industry, including John Legend. US president Joe Biden appeared to call out West’s remarks in a social media post.