April 15 is a day where ballplayers and every American pays tribute to the man who broke the color line in baseball. Former MLB president and chief operating officer Bob Dupuy once described Jackie Robinson Day as significant "not only for baseball, but for our country in general.”
The day has been celebrated for 10 years now, but there hasn’t been a sneaker or baseball cleat that truly encapsulated the impact Jackie Robinson had on sports in America. Sure, there have been PE baseball cleats and trainers that have been emblazoned with Robinson’s signature 42. Still, there hasn’t been a piece of sportswear that celebrated Robinson’s legacy and was actually approved by the Jackie Robinson Estate...until now.
On Jackie Robinson Day, adidas athletes in the MLB and Robinson’s alma mater UCLA will wear exclusive cleats that were designed in partnership with the estate. There will be two PEs—the Afterburner 2 and the Energy Boost Icon 2— that will feature elements inspired by the player and civil rights advocate’s career.
“We’re not the first one to honor Jackie,” said Aaron Kahn, Senior Director of adidas Baseball. “But in terms of doing it true partnership and elevating it into the level of detail and storytelling that we are, I don’t think there’s anybody that’s come close to that.”
Each cleat takes on its own varying aesthetics. On the Afterburner 2, newspaper headlines that Robinson was lionized in make up the upper.
"In the pre-Instagram days, the way you got your news was actually newspaper headlines. So talking about that exploring the first explorations were kind of using newspaper clippings as references for the shoes,” said Harold Arandia Jr., Senior Designer for adidas Baseball. “So that was the kind of direction we wanted for the Afterburner, being bold in your face with the imprint as the main story on the shoe.”
The Energy Boost Icon 2 takes a more subtle approach. The upper is a nod to the wool uniforms and hats that players wore in the 1940s. Each of the special edition cleats are highlighted with throwback baseball stitching and with quotes on the inside that were handpicked by the Jackie Robinson Estate.
"The last thing a guy looks at when he’s putting on his shoe is the sockliner," said Matt Van Wyen, Product Manager for adidas Baseball. "Our thought was to inspire our players as they’re putting on these cleats and honor Jackie’s legacy."
The estate provided two different quotes for both the left and right shoes. One that was rooted in Robinson's competitive nature and the other that spoke to his social impact off the field.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of how adidas will be celebrating Robinson's legacy in years to come. Adidas' baseball designers are already working with the Jackie Robinson Estate on how they can tell other stories from Robinson's life. For example, it's a little known fact that the athlete also had a decorated military career.
"Everybody knows about his athletic legend, but we’re going to work with the estate and have that conversation to figure out what parts of Jackie’s history that we can we really elevate more," Van Wyen said. "Our goal is to do right by Jackie first. It’s almost like a history lesson. We have a platform and a relationship with the estate to not only make it cool and different, but also tell different parts of the story that are maybe a little bit overlooked by Hollywood or everybody else."