Before we break our hands applauding Aaron Donald and Jaylen Brown for their faux courage in severing ties with Kanye West’s Donda Sports management group, let us remember it wasn’t that long ago when the two athletes were living in West’s alternative reality.
Aaron Donald and Jaylen Brown sent a message by joining Kanye West’s agency
Months before Donald praised the company for its “family” environment, its figurehead, who now goes by Ye, was the same ex-husband who had targeted Kim Kardashian with a barrage of harassment on social media and threatened physical violence against the man she was dating at the time.
When the two athletes formed an alliance with Ye earlier this year, he was already problematic. Just not enough to dissuade them from seeking the empowerment of greater cultural influence and deeper commercial partnerships that could come along with this connection. They weren’t thinking about their corporate responsibility; they were only thinking about their corporate power.
And so they ignored the red MAGA hat. The wild reports that Ye’s publicist threatened an election worker from Georgia with jail time if she did not confess to voter-fraud allegations. Even the fact that an avowed train wreck, Antonio Brown, was named president of Donda Sports. (If Antonio Brown’s the leader, kind of makes you wonder about the rest of the hierarchy over there: Candace Owens, chief DEI officer? Alex Jones, social media manager?)
None of these red flags deterred either Jaylen Brown, the Boston Celtics forward, or Donald, the Los Angeles Rams’ three-time NFL defensive player of the year and a Super Bowl champion last season, from joining this pending inferno. They still chose Ye .
Aaron Donald, Jaylen Brown sever ties with Kanye West’s Donda Sports
“I think it’s lit.”
That’s how Jaylen Brown described signing with Donda Sports in a GQ video. Before getting drafted in 2016, Brown, a man of many interests, was allegedly labeled “too smart” for basketball. Then following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Brown traveled to his home state of Georgia to join the peaceful protests. During the bubble, he emerged as one of the most vocal players embracing social and political activism. Both Brown and Ye are sons of teachers, which Brown has said served as a motivating factor for joining Donda Sports. Still, there were plenty other reasons to proceed with caution with Ye, who recently falsely claimed that Floyd’s death was because of a drug overdose and not an officer’s knee pinned to his neck.
It was family that attracted Donald, who called his signing with Donda Sports a “hell of a opportunity.” Donald came across like a man who concerned himself not only with the avenues outside of football that would open for him but also for his wife, Erica, who has managed most of his marketing opportunities. Equity in business for his spouse seemed significant to him and admirable to those who might look up to Donald.
“Hearing the whole spectrum of everything that was going on … the family atmosphere that they got at Donda Sports,” Donald told the “I Am Athlete” podcast back in May. “For me it was a no-brainer.”
However, Donald clearly paid no mind to Ye’s treatment toward his own former wife: Ye posted her private messages online, sent unwanted gifts and was just the toxic ex who cloaked creepy behavior as a type of “love.”
Not until Ye’s recent verbal attacks against Jewish people — and his insistence to stand 10 toes down in his foolishness — did Brown and Donald take notice and follow his longest standing business partners out the door. Balenciaga — Ye has had a relationship with the luxury clothing and its artistic director since at least 2016 — dropped him. Then Adidas — the first of the popular Yeezy designs debuted in 2015 — gave him the boot.
Brown and Donald were the next major brands to back out of their business relationships with Ye. And make no mistake, as 21st century athletes, they are small corporations in and of themselves: Aaron Donald Inc. and Jaylen Brown LLC.
Kanye West may have finally reached the point of no return
Like many of their peers, the football star and basketball standout were attempting to construct their empires away from the arena. Modern-day professionals no longer only have to hawk sneakers and sugary cereals to elevate their profile. Today, he is the executive producer of an Netflix miniseries. She is the venture capitalist who champions companies founded by people of color. More so than any other time in history, athletes command hearty chunks of the pie.
In the leagues in which Brown and Donald play, the NBA and NFL, superstars have monetized their fame better than all other American team sport athletes. According to Forbes, Giannis Antetokounmpo, still one of the NBA’s most exciting players, will earn $39.9 million on the court this year. However, he will exceed even that massive amount with $41.1 million in endorsement earnings. And in the NFL, Tom Brady will pull in $52 million in endorsements, compared with $31.9 million from his day job as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback .
These are not the billion-dollar annual sales generated by Gap or Adidas, but athletes’ rising off-court salaries show their cultural and financial clout.
Brown and Donald believed they were elevating this trend in aligning with Ye.
But on their path toward economic and creative opportunity, they also showed us their priorities. When they cut ties with Donda this week, they made statements about their corporate values: that antisemitism is beyond the pale. When they signed with Donda, they also made statements: that anti-Black rhetoric and destructive domestic behavior are not.
The modern athlete can use their platform, we’ve seen, to create change within their leagues and society at large. So as they seek greater currency, they shouldn’t just follow the steps of every other profit-seeking business model. They can Wield their power by disassociating with objectionable partners. But also by choosing to avoid them in the first place.