Nike has hit pause on its relationship with Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving and pulled the release of its “Kyrie 8” shoe over the basketball star’s discussion of a film widely considered to be antisemitic. Irving had promoted the movie on social media, and his tepid commentary following an outcry has only stoked the controversy.
“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8,” a Nike spokesperson told Retail Dive. “We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”
The movie, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” employs “multiple antisemitic tropes, as well as Holocaust denial, which itself is antisemitic,” according to a petition from the American Jewish Committee asking Amazon to remove it from its streaming service. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether it will continue streaming the film and selling the book it’s based on, or tag it with a warning as some have urged.
The Kyrie 8 was expected to be released any day now. Instead, what has been a successful partnership for years is now on ice, a move that follows Nike rival Adidas’ divorce from longtime collaborator Kanye West, also known as Ye, over that star’s problematic behavior.
While Nike’s Kyrie series is not quite as lucrative as the Adidas Yeezy line was — Adidas is forgoing nearly $250 million in profits in this quarter alone — it’s a successful one. Nike didn't immediately respond to questions about the sales impact of the shoe release cancellation.
Yet, unlike some of the brands working with Ye, including Adidas and Gap, Nike has moved swiftly and decisively, experts say. The brand hasn’t ended its relationship with Irving just yet. But the speed of Nike’s action and its wait-and-see attitude are both appropriate, according to Ross Steinman, a consumer psychologist and professor at Widener University.
The Anti-Defamation League has reached out to Irving, saying in a statement that “if Kyrie is open to direct dialogue to repair the harm that he has caused and to engage in a process of healing and learning in a sincere manner, ADL is open to engaging with him. Time and action will tell."
That creates a moment where Irving could still repair the damage both to his own brand, and by extension Nike’s, Steinman said.
“There's a lot hanging in the air right now. It's very, very tense, very heavy. We’ve moved forward in a time where more and more people are socially conscious and the brands have followed suit,” he said by phone. “I do think if it's accepted in a genuine way, there is an opportunity for Kyrie Irving to reconcile his professional basketball career, as well as the alignment with Nike, and at that point, I do think that consumers could follow.”
The Anti-Defamation League in conjunction with Brooklyn Nets have sent a letter to Jeff Bezos and Amazon leaders to either remove book/movie at center of Kyrie Irving situation from the platform or add explanation about issues with the content, sources tell me and @MikeVorkunov.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 4, 2022
While Irving represents Nike’s brand, Amazon is further removed from the controversy, Steinman said. Still, Amazon also has a decision to make, according to Deb Gabor, CEO and founder of Sol Marketing. As a retailer, Amazon has previously pulled Nazi items from its marketplace. The ADL and the Brooklyn Nets team have reportedly asked leaders at Amazon to pull the movie or at least tag it with a disclaimer. This situation will entail Amazon deciding if it is “a platform for buying and selling everything from A to Z, including media, or truly a media company,” Gabor said by phone.
“They're probably talking about, ‘OK, what is our role as an organization on this,’” she said. “I think they need to be zero. If you're zero tolerance on one thing, you need to be zero tolerance on everything.”