Book 17 of 52: Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud that Forever Changed the Business of Sport

As someone who’s played soccer since she was four years old, how could I not pick up Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sport (available March 25, 2008)? And with a subhead like that, how could I not ready it (side note: one of my graduate school professors said to skip the title and pay attention to what came after the colon…in this case, he’s 100 percent right).

This isn’t just a story about a family feud. It’s about how that family feud laid the groundwork for sponsorships as we know it today. Yes, it might be McDonalds and Coke who we most associate with big ticket sponsorship deals, but it all started with the Dassler brothers trying to one up each other by convincing Olympic athletes to wear their shoes, first by giving away free shoes , then by leaving envelopes of cash in pre-determined places (since, before 1990, ‘professional’ athletes were banned from the Olympics).

I would hate to hate my siblings like this. Granted, we don’t always get along, but I’m looking forward to having my brothers and sister in one place for most of the holiday weekend. And I felt bad enjoying how this story unfolded since the catapult of the brand split this one family in two, but the book is so well written and so fascinating that it read like a novel.

Smit has meticulously recreated what happened, with copious help from both Adidas and Puma, who let her delve into their archives to tell the story as it really happened. Both companies are far removed from those original family businesses, so it makes sense for them to have worked with Smit though it was a risk since the history is not pretty, especially when revealed that the Dassler brothers had Nazi ties (not tight ties, but ties none the less).

The only thing that irked me about the narrative was Smit’s tendency to use Dickensonian chapter endings — those over dramatized closing sentences that are meant to catapult you to read the next chapter (very effective for Dickens stories since they were serialized in magazines, and such endings would prompt you the buy the next issue). Sure, phrases like “The unpleasant conversation the Frenchman anticipated turned into a nerve-wracking poker game, with Adidas at stake” and “Yet it still wasn’t immune to disaster in the United States” would have been okay every one and a while, but Smit used so many that I was rolling my eyes at them by the end of the book.

BUT — do not let this deter you from picking up the book. You can skip past them. Who knows. Some of them might be edited out since the book doesn’t come out until late March (I’m reviewing this for a magazine, which is why I got such an advance copy, and why a cover isn’t available for me to include with this review). It’ll make you think twice before picking up your next pair of running shoes, cleats or sports-branded sweat pants.

P.S. For the record, I run in Mizunos but won’t play soccer in anything by my Adidas Copa Mundials — perhaps the most perfectly formed shoe I have ever worn).

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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