Article by Tracey Savell Reavis
There’s been a lot of conversations lately as U.S. corporations and brands wrestle the weighty issue of being on the right side of the racial divide. Major League Soccer is among the leagues supporting its athletes in the Black Lives Matter movement, and they demonstrated that support by proactively working with the newly formed Black Players for Change. But the roots of racial injustice are deep and wide. MLS sponsors also have to be held accountable for their record on diversity and inclusion. Last month one of those sponsors, Adidas, found itself confronting its racial business practices. A recent film, Our Voice, by former MLS player Maxwell Griffin, lifting the experience of U.S.-based Adidas employees, has prompted the retailer to commit money and resources to reform.
I created this film to amplify the Black voice at adidas. We must continue to have real conversations, not only within our brand and the footwear industry, but also across all corporations in the U.S. and abroad.— Maxwell Griffin (@MaxRGriffin) July 10, 2020
REAL change starts now.
One by one, 14 employees shared stories of what it’s like on the inside at Adidas. We have heard this story before. Black employees don’t get asked to participate. They don’t get the promotion. They remain voiceless. It’s great that this film was made, but we need more than just talk. The better barometer for accountability is follow-through and action.
In Washington, D.C., the pro football team has decided to change its name. This comes not after Native American groups protested or because the team ownership realized it was the morally correct thing to do. Nope. The change came about after sponsors put pressure on the club. Threats of pulling out millions of dollars worth of support changed the hearts and minds of management and presto, follow through.
Decades from now when the next generation searches for the history of the Black Lives Matter movement, what digital breadcrumbs will Adidas have left behind?
When Jar Jar Binks was carted out in The Phantom Menace, the first thing I remember thinking was, you mean to tell me there was no one—from the moment of conception to the final edit of the film—not a single person, to tell George Lucas, Hello? Do you not see how racist and offensive this character is? That’s what not having black and brown faces around the table means. That’s what the Adidas employees in this film are saying. Yes, that was 20 years ago, but it could have happened 20 days ago. Adidas and countless other companies somehow can’t seem to see the error of their ways.
Now that they’re woke, I hope with their new awareness, Adidas will make actual progress.
It can start with working together with Major League Soccer and Black Players for Change. This trio can make substantive progress in creating a racially equitable playing field. One of their common goals includes hiring. As was pointed out in the Our Voice film, Black employees at Adidas don’t feel they actually have one. While the shoe giant courts the urban community, there are little to no Black voices considered in decision-making processes, nor do they have a seat at the table. This can be addressed with improved and increased hiring, which Adidas has committed to. And that has to expand to promotion and retention. Funding must include recruitment efforts to connect to communities to bring in talent, going beyond traditional hiring mechanisms.
Another way they can make a difference in moving the equity agenda forward in support of the BPC initiatives is to partner with MLS to begin to address the issue of access to soccer programs that young Black athletes are having in this country. Training, development, access to equipment, coaches, and mentors take the kind of funding all of these parties can manage.
Brands can no longer ignore that their executive actions or lack of actions have an effect on employees of color. It’s quite frankly disrespectful to be so unaware. So let’s hope the dialogue between MLS, Black Players for Change and Adidas leads to concrete plans and a blueprint for reform. So just as the stories in the film have been elevated, so too will the urgency for racial justice.
About The Author:
Tracey Savell Reavis is a veteran sports journalist, author of "David Beckham: Football Legend, Cultural Icon," and US Men's National Team historian.
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