When it comes to the subject of Kanye West’s anti-Semitic remarks, Bjørn Gulden had just one job as CEO of Adidas—create as much distance between the German sportswear company and the disgraced artist as possible.
The Norwegian, who had nothing to do with last year’s slow and clumsy response since he started this January, effectively had an open goal when asked during a recent podcast about the scandal that led to Adidas shutting the door on their lucrative Yeezy line of footwear.
Instead, Gulden managed to trip up and plant both feet firmly in his mouth by trivializing West’s harmful behavior and suggesting a grown man whose career has been built around self-expression wasn’t capable of saying what he actually meant.
The outcome was obvious—a spate of ugly headlines entirely self-inflicted by the German company that only serve to rehash the past instead of looking towards the future.
And so too now is the inevitable walk-back from his remarks that damaged Adidas’ already tarnished reputation on the issue.
“Bjørn apologized for his misstatement and reiterated that Adidas is committed to fighting anti-Semitism and is completely opposed to the ugly hate expressed by Kanye West,” Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, posted on X after speaking with the CEO on Thursday.
The ADL is a leading Jewish non-profit advocacy group that monitors hate speech and regularly speaks out whenever it identifies instances of bigotry. It has been attacked by X owner Elon Musk, who accuses the organization of going so far as to actually spread anti-Semitism himself by policing free speech with too heavy a hand.
Good to speak with @Adidas CEO Bjorn Gulden this morning. Bjorn apologized for his misstatement & reiterated that Adidas is committed to fighting #antisemitism & is completely opposed to the ugly hate expressed by @kanyewest. Glad Adidas, @ADL & @FCASorg are working together to…
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) September 21, 2023
Making matters worse from a reputational perspective, the comments had gone unnoticed for days—plenty of time for Adidas to clean up the mess before any damage was done.
Representatives from the company did not respond to attempts by Fortune for comment.
Concerns over anti-Semitism becoming normalized again
Due to his stature and platform as a once-respected artist and designer, West’s anti-Semitic remarks sparked angry condemnation from Jews across the world.
In particular, however, West’s behavior alarmed American Jews, particularly as celebrities like comedian Dave Chapelle have trivialized his comments much like Gulden.
Many fear that anti-Semitism is once again becoming normalized among certain elements on both the right and left of the U.S. political spectrum.
West meanwhile had every opportunity to apologize for the harm he caused. Instead, he chose to arrive for dinner at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence with known Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes in tow or appear on alt-right host Alex Jones’ Infowars program to praise Adolf Hitler.
In a prepared statement sent by email to Bloomberg, Adidas said: “Our stance has not changed. Hate of any kind has no place in sports or society, and we remain committed to fighting it.”