Adidas CEO Bjørn Gulden said he didn’t think Kanye West “meant what he said” when the rapper made numerous antisemitic comments last year that led to the termination of his endorsement deal.
On a podcast interview last week, Gulden attributed West’s statements to his artistic temperament. “As creative people he [made] some statements which weren’t that good and that caused Adidas to break the contract and withdraw the product,” he told the podcast host.
Gulden said West, who hasn’t clearly repudiated his antisemitic comments, had been misunderstood. “Very unfortunate because I don’t think he meant what he said. I don’t think he’s a bad person. It just came across that way. And that meant we lost that business, one of the most successful collabs in history. Very sad.”
In October, the rapper, also known as Ye, wore a White Lives Matter t-shirt to a fashion show in Paris, and then made a series of antisemitic statements over the following weeks.
West tweeted he was preparing to “go death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE,” presumably referring to the term “defcon” used by the U.S. military to signal varying degrees of emergency preparedness. The post led to an eight-month ban from X, formerly Twitter, that was only lifted in July. Later that same month, making the media rounds, West told Chris Cuomo in an interview that he was angry with a “Jewish underground media mafia.” He then told the Drink Champs podcast that he was #MeToo-ing the Jewish culture” because the “Jewish people have owned the Black voice.” (Drink Champs has since made the episode unavailable.)
West then claimed his celebrity status would protect him from any repercussions from his comments. “I can say antisemitic things and Adidas can’t drop me,” he said at the time.
Adidas dropped West in October 2022 following public backlash and a letter from the Anti Defamation League urging Adidas executives “to reconsider supporting the Ye product line.” At the time Adidas released a statement saying it “does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech” and would stop making payments to West and his companies.
Adidas did not respond to a request for comment about Gulden’s latest comments. The ADL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gulden, who was appointed Adidas CEO in November 2022, immediately after West’s antisemitic outburst, went on to say during the podcast that was one of the risks of celebrity endorsements. “When you work with third parties that can happen,” he said. “It’s part of the game. It can happen with an athlete, it can happen with an entertainer. It’s part of the business.”
Cutting ties with West meant Adidas had an estimated $1.3 billion in unsold merchandise from his Yeezy line. In July, the company reversed course and decided that it would move forward with selling the remaining Yeezy branded products it had in inventory. Money from those sales was to be donated “to the organizations that are helping us and that was also hurt by Kanye’s statements.” The sale of those items helped Adidas reduce its forecasted operating loss for this year from €700 million to €450 million.