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Nike terminates Kyrie Irving contract after anti-Semitism controversy

Nike has severed its contract with US basketball star Kyrie Irving after the Brooklyn Nets guard promoted an anti-Semitic film on social media, the latest fallout amid a rise in high-profile hate speech.

Nike, the world’s largest sportswear maker by revenues, had suspended its relationship with Irving a month ago. A spokeswoman said Monday that Irving “is no longer a Nike athlete”.

It was not immediately clear whether the company will continue to sell existing signature shoes and merchandise bearing the athlete’s name. As of Monday many of his products remained available on Nike’s website at significant markdowns.

The decision to part ways with Irving follows a similar decision by rival Adidas to terminate its relationship with the designer and entertainer Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, who has repeatedly espoused anti-Semitic and other hateful views on social media and in interviews. Yeezy, his sportswear line, accounted for about 7 per cent of revenues for Adidas, according to the company.

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Nike does not break out sales figures for athletes with signature shoes.

Irving, a 2016 National Basketball Association champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has played in Brooklyn since 2019. He was initially suspended by the team last month after he posted a screenshot of the film Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America to social media and repeatedly refused to condemn its anti-Semitic contents.

The Anti-Defamation League, a human rights organisation combating anti-Semitism, said at the time it would not accept a pledged donation from Irving but was open to dialogue with the basketball player as “actions speak louder than words”.

Irving resumed playing with the Nets on November 20 after apologising to the Jewish community and acknowledging he handled the situation poorly. Nets owner Joe Tsai, the co-founder of Alibaba, wrote on Twitter on November 11 that he and his wife met with Irving as part of the remediation process.

Sportswear makers and other consumer goods companies that enlist celebrities and athletes to endorse products frequently include so-called morality contract clauses, which allow the companies to terminate agreements if the endorser says something or behaves in such a way to tarnish the brand’s image.

In 1997, Converse severed ties with basketball star Latrell Sprewell after he had a physical altercation with his coach. In 2012, Nike ended its relationship with cyclist Lance Armstrong after he confessed to doping.

In an interview with CNBC last month, Nike co-founder Phil Knight said Irving had “stepped over the line” with his refusal to condemn anti-Semitism and signalled the company’s relationship with the player was likely finished. Nike in recent years has been at the forefront of marketing with overt social justice campaigns, including American football player Colin Kaepernick and support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Nike said in its initial statement in which it suspended Irving that the company “condemn[s] any form of anti-Semitism”.


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