How Adidas Is Helping Get Racism Out Of School Sports

Photo: Matt Hazlett/Getty Images.
Adidas is trying to make the playing field look a little more politically correct, at least as far as uniforms are concerned. The sportswear behemoth announced that it will help high schools that want to replace mascots or logos bearing Native American symbolism or offensive names.

The company will assist with design resources to help schools whip up new athletic iconography to replace existing, "potentially harmful" logos or mascots, and will also help pay for replacement uniforms "to ensure the transition is not cost prohibitive," according to a statement released yesterday.

The program could affect up to 2,000 schools across the country, out of approximately 27,000 high schools in total, that currently have potentially racist team names and imagery. (Any schools wishing to participate can email the company at mascotchange@adidas.com.)

"Sports must be inclusive," Eric Liedtke, an Adidas executive board member, said in a statement. "Today we are harnessing the influence of sports in our culture to lead change for our communities."

The announcement coincided with the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C. yesterday. President Barack Obama commended Adidas on the program at the conference, but some aren't as thrilled about it. The Washington Redskins, a pro football team, released a very frank statement about the initiative.

"The hypocrisy of changing names at the high school level of play and continuing to profit off of professional like-named teams is absurd," according to the Washington Redskins statement (links added): "Adidas [makes] hundreds of millions of dollars selling uniforms to teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors, while profiting off sales of fan apparel for the Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves and many other like-named teams."

At the moment, Adidas is only extending the offer of a new, less offensive look on the field to high school sports teams; it won't affect teams with much broader fanbases, like those at the professional or college level.

"High school social identities are central to the lives of young athletes, so it's important to create a climate that feels open to everyone who wants to compete," said Mark King, president of Adidas Group North America. "In many cities across our nation, the high school and its sports teams take center stage in the community, and the mascot and team names become an everyday rallying cry."

Adidas is also a founding member of "a coalition to look at the issue of Native imagery in sports and work to find ongoing solutions," according to the statement, which will presumably address the issue in pro and college-level sports. If the initiative is a success with sports superstars-in-training, maybe Adidas — and other brands — will take a look at the objectionable symbolism being used in the professional arena. The Redskins, it seems, have reason to worry.
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