PORTLAND, Ore. - (AP) -- 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 mascots over the past two years and another 20 are considering a change.
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."
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 the University of 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."
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.
Associated Press Writer Stacy A. Anderson in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
Adidas set up an email address for schools wishing to inquire about the service: mascotchange(at)adidas.com.
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