Adidas offers to help eliminate Native American mascots

Adidas to help schools remove Native American mascots (2:08)

ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell explains how Adidas plans to help high schools remove Native American mascots. (2:08)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Adidas is offering to help high schools nationwide drop Native American mascots.

The athletic shoe and apparel maker said Thursday it will provide free design resources to schools looking to shelve Native American mascots, nicknames, imagery or symbolism. The German company also pledged to provide financial support to ensure the cost of changing is not prohibitive.

Adidas announced the initiative in conjunction with the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, which includes leaders from the 567 federally recognized tribes.

The company, which has its North American headquarters in Portland, Oregon, also said it will be a founding member of a coalition that addresses Native American mascots in sports.

According to the group Change the Mascot, there are about 2,000 schools nationwide that have Native American mascots.

The advocacy group says about a dozen schools have dropped Native American mascots over the past two years and another 20 are considering a change.

"The growing movement to end the use of Native American mascots, particularly the dictionary-defined R-word slur, is surging forward all across the nation," Change the Mascot said in a statement.

Eric Liedtke, Adidas head of global brands, who was at the Washington conference, said sports must be inclusive.

"Today's announcement is a great way for us to offer up our resources to schools that want to do what's right -- to administrators, teachers, students and athletes who want to make a difference in their lives and in their world," Liedtke said in a statement. "Our intention is to help break down any barriers to change -- change that can lead to a more respectful and inclusive environment for all American athletes."

Speaking to young Native Americans attending the conference, president Barack Obama applauded Adidas.

"I tell you, for Adidas to make that commitment, it's a very smart thing to do," Obama said. "Because those schools now really don't have an excuse. What they're saying is one of the top sports companies in the world, one of the top brands in the world, is prepared to come and use all their expertise to come up with something that's really going to work and that the entire community can feel proud of and can bring people together and give a fresh start."

He added, alluding to the Washington Redskins: "I don't know if Adidas made the same offer to a certain NFL team, here in Washington. But they might want to think about that as well."

The voluntary program would give schools access to the company's design team for logo redesign and uniform design across all sports. It seeks to be a collaborative effort with schools.

Adidas emphasized the initiative only involves high schools and that the company is not mandating that schools change mascots and nicknames. The program does not involve its other agreements or sponsorships with professional or college teams or with individual athletes.

The company said it embarked on the initiative because it became clear that schools "wanting to make a change had very little avenues to do so."

"Ultimately, it's the teams, athletes, coaches and fans who decide what changes they want to make. And if they want to make a change and we can help, then we want to help," the company said.

The use of such mascots has drawn increased attention and controversy in recent years. The NFL's Washington Redskins have resisted appeals by Native American and civil rights groups to change their name and mascot.

Maury Lane, an outside team spokesman for the Redskins, issued a statement criticizing Adidas' move.

"The hypocrisy of changing names at the high school level of play and continuing to profit off of professional like-named teams is absurd. Adidas make hundreds of millions of dollars selling uniforms to teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Golden State Warriors, while profiting off sales of fan apparel for the Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves and many other like-named teams," the statement said. "It seems safe to say that Adidas' next targets will be the biggest sports teams in the country, which won't be very popular with their shareholders, team fans, or partner schools and organizations."

Adidas has had a sponsorship agreement with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III since before he was drafted into the NFL. Adidas also currently provides team uniforms for the NBA and will outfit the NHL starting in the 2017-18 season.

On the college level, the NCAA warned schools in 2005 that they would face sanctions if they didn't change Native American logos or nicknames. Some colleges kept their nicknames by obtaining permission from tribes, including the Florida State Seminoles and Utah Utes.

Some states have taken action at the high school level. Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that prohibits schools from using the term "Redskins."

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently ordered the creation of a commission to study the use of Native American mascots and come up with a list of recommendations for possible legislation.

In Oregon, the state Board of Education in 2012 ordered high schools to ban such mascots or risk losing public funding. The schools have until 2017 to comply.

"High school social identities are central to the lives of young athletes, so it's important to create a climate that feels open to everyone who wants to compete," Adidas president Mark King said in a statement. "But the issue is much bigger. These social identities affect the whole student body and, really, entire communities.

"In many cities across our nation, the high school and its sports teams take center stage in the community and the mascot and team names become an everyday rallying cry."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.