Adidas offers to help schools change ‘offensive’ names

If you’re a high school with an American Indian mascot, Adidas AG will to pay you to switch.

The world’s second-largest sporting goods maker on Thursday announced a nationwide initiative to provide financial assistance and design resources to any U.S. high school open to a change. The company said there are roughly 2,000 schools that have logos or mascots that might be offensive to tribal communities.

“These social identities affect the whole student body and, really, entire communities,” Mark King, president of Adidas North America, said in a statement. “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.”

The costs can be high, especially for smaller schools. Earlier this year, the school board for Goshen Middle School and Goshen High School in Indiana voted to retire the Goshen Redskins mascot. High School Athletic Director Larry Kissinger estimated that the expense of rebranding, including new signs around campus and at stadiums, would total around $30,000.

“We have not been putting Redskins on unis for many years, so that saved us substantially,” Kissinger said in an e-mail. The school did need three new sets of wrestling singlets.

The Washington Redskins have been the subject of more than two decades of debate over whether their name is racist. Those in favor of a change include American Indian tribes, civil rights groups and a number of politicians. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently canceled the trademark for the term “Redskins.” Owner Dan Snyder defends the name as a tribute, and the team is appealing the trademark ruling.

“The hypocrisy of changing names at the high school level of play and continuing to profit off of professional like-named teams is absurd,” team spokesman Maury Lane said in a written statement. “Adidas make 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.”

Adidas told the Washington Post in an email that it wasn't being critical of teams that preferred to keep their American Indian-related name.

“It’s important to remember today’s discussion is a voluntary effort and only about high schools,” spokesman Michael Ehrlich wrote in an e-mail. “We are not mandating a change. We are committed to continuing a dialogue to look at the issue of native images in sports and work to find solutions. Ultimately, it’s the leagues, teams, athletes, coaches and fans who decide what changes they want to make. And if they want to make a change and we have the resources to help, then we want to help.”

The announcement by Adidas, made as executives attend the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, coincides with the release of the company’s third-quarter earnings. Adidas reported a 10 percent gain in third-quarter profit that beat analysts’ estimates, led by sales growth in western Europe and China. The shares rose 8.6 percent, the biggest one-day gain since December 2008.

“This is a win-win for Adidas,” said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director for Baker Street Advertising. “Yes, it may cost them money and resources, but it shows their dedication toward a worthwhile cause, builds goodwill and a favorable impression among young athletes, and further spreads their stripes into the lucrative and growing high school sports market.”

In the college world, Adidas trails industry-leader Nike Inc. in teams outfitted. Adidas’s major programs include the UCLA Bruins, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Indiana Hoosiers, Kansas Jayhawks and Louisville Cardinals. Maria Culp, an Adidas spokeswoman, said that while the mascot announcement applies to high schools, the company is “more than willing” to work with any college willing to make a similar switch.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association in August 2005 cracked down on schools using such mascots. Some, like the North Dakota Fighting Sioux and Arkansas State Indians, made changes. Others, such as the Florida State Seminoles and Utah Utes, have kept their mascots by obtaining permission from tribes.

Change the Mascot, a national campaign begun by the Oneida Indian Nation, which has lobbied against the Redskins name, praised Adidas’s move. So did President Barack Obama.

“They have really come up with a smart, creative approach, which is to say, alright, if we can’t get states to pass laws to prohibit these mascots, then how can we incentivize schools to think differently?” Obama said Thursday at the Tribal Nations Conference. “I don’t know if Adidas made the same offer to a certain NFL team here in Washington, but they might want to think about that as well.”

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