Believing they were close to achieving a breakthrough, members of the coalition even drafted a statement this week for the company’s board of directors in Germany to sign off on. It included an acknowledgment of its problems with racism and would offer an official apology.
Instead, the company released a statement on Tuesday that said 30 percent of new hires would be black or Latino and pledged to invest in scholarships for black students and programs that benefited the black community, but omitted any references to internal discrimination, angering many employees. On Wednesday’s call, Mr. Armstrong expanded on Tuesday’s statement but offered no corporate apology.
Adidas declined to comment beyond its statements.
The unrest inside Adidas may have followed the global protests, but many black workers have long felt discriminated against by their employer and disillusioned with the company’s leadership.
Last year, The New York Times found that in 2018 only 4.5 percent of the 1,700 employees on the Portland campus identified themselves as black, and only about 1 percent of the more than 300 of the worldwide vice presidents were black. Black employees often felt marginalized and sometimes discriminated against by the largely white executives in Portland. Two employees said they were referred to with a racist slur by white co-workers.
Adidas’s internal struggles with race run counter to its outward embrace of black culture and sports, particularly through its high-profile partnerships with entertainers like Beyoncé, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams and athletes, including the N.B.A. stars James Harden and Damian Lillard. Those relationships have translated into sales among black and Hispanic youth for Adidas.
“It is sad when this company is fueled by the culture outside, but inside there is a limitation on black talent because we are only good for that information extracted,” said Aric Armon, an Adidas footwear designer.
On Tuesday, the company banned the use of the word “asset” when referring to people, including sponsored athletes and entertainers, noting the word is offensive to cultures that have been enslaved. The announcement slide included a picture of Mr. Harden, noting, “You are an athlete, not an asset.”