Commentary: Is the Adidas "Shackle" Shoe Racist?

Civil rights activists are claiming Adidas' new basketball shoe is a slap in the face of African-Americans. Is this much ado about a plush toy allusion or ignorance at work?

Posted: 06/19/2012 06:16 PM EDT
Is the Adidas "Shackle" shoe racist?

With all the reasons to attack sports nowadays, from rampant NFL head injuries to no health-care plans for boxers, you might not think a controversial athletic shoe should warrant much attention. You, sports fan, would be wrong. In recent days, Adidas' new JS Roundhouse Mid sneakers, a limited-edition design from famous designer Jeremy Scott, have stirred up quite a controversy in the sports world. No, nobody’s angry because of how poorly the shoes perform. They’re mad because of how the shoes look.


That’s because the Roundhouse Mids come complete with plastic chains and shackles which are supposed to go around the wearer’s ankles. Uh-oh.

 

In a statement released today, Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition decried the shoes as "an insult":

 

The attempt to commercialize and make popular more than 200 years of human degradation, where Blacks were considered three-fifths human by our Constitution is offensive, appalling and insensitive. Removing the chains from our ankles and placing them on our shoes is no progress.        

 

For Adidas to promote the athleticism and contributions of a variety of African-American sports legends — especially Olympic heroes Wilma Rudolph and Jesse Owens and boxing great Muhammad Ali — and then allow such a degrading symbol of African-American history to pass through its corporate channels and move toward actual production and advertisement, is insensitive and corporately irresponsible.

 

To be fair to Adidas and Scott, Scott says that the shoes, which have been canceled amid the uproar, weren’t intended to have anything to do with slavery. Rather, he says they were inspired by My Pet Monster, a child’s toy and cartoon from the 1990s that has orange shackles around its wrists very similar to the ones on the shoes. "My work has always been inspired by cartoons, toys, and my childhood," Scott told the Associated Press in a statement, and, indeed, a survey of his work turns up inspirations from The Flintstones to The Simpsons.

 

It’s really up to the individual to decide whether Scott and Adidas had racism in their hearts when they decided to release the sneakers, or if, as they say, the Roundhouse Mids were simply an homage to a plush toy. Either way, where Adidas did fail is not immediately assuming that some people would be in an uproar about the shoe’s release. With the NBA composed of mostly African-American players, it’s going to be impossible to release a basketball shoe with even slight chain elements without causing a firestorm of backlash. In the end, this shoe probably wasn’t racism; just ignorance and bad business.

 

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

 

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(Photos from left: Courtesy CNN, observer.com)

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