Bjørn Gulden stepped in it in a Sept. 12 interview on a Norwegian podcast, when the CEO of Adidas defended “Ye,” formerly Kanye West, who has made antisemitic and pro-Hitler remarks in recent months.
“Kanye didn’t mean what he said [about Jews],” Gulden said. “I don’t think he’s a bad person. It just came across that way.” He added that Ye is “one of the most creative people in the world.”
The German sporting goods giant announced last October that it was severing ties with West, following a series of antisemitic and offensive statements by the American rapper, producer and fashion designer.
StopAntisemitism, a U.S.-based group fighting Jew-hatred, criticized Gulden’s comments. “Ye repeatedly doubled down on his shockingly antisemitic statements, leaving no doubt that he meant every word,” the group said.
“Adidas already erred in selling off over $400 million worth of Yeezy products; while Ye will receive a percentage of that revenue, Adidas has provided no additional information on its promised donations to anti-hate organizations,” it added.
It was not until April, after months of deliberations, that Adidas decided to sell its remaining $1 billion worth of shoes and clothing from its partnership with West. The company promised it would donate part of the proceeds to charity.
“Burning the goods is not the solution,” Gulden said at the time. “What we are trying to do now over time is to sell parts of this merchandise and donate money to the organizations hurt by Kanye’s statements.”
One notable downside of the plan was that West would still receive 15% of sales.
Ending the collaboration between Ye and Adidas led to the sportswear brand’s first loss in 31 years, causing shareholders to file suit.
In December 2022, StopAntisemitism named West the “2022 Antisemite of the Year.”
“Kanye West’s threats of violence, hateful conduct and hate speech all led him to winning this year’s title,” the group said. “Despite losing the vast majority of his fortune, being booted from social media and ostracized from his social circles, West continued spreading his antisemitism.”
West’s most infamous statement was his remark to podcaster Alex Jones that “I see good things about Hitler.”
Thousands of Americans voted to choose the “worst anti-Jewish bigot,” selecting from StopAntisemitism’s “Antisemite of the Week” profiles.