Does Levi Strauss & Co. Respect Blacks in San Francisco?


May 22, 2013; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati (77) and outside linebacker Aldon Smith (99) stretch on the field in front of the construction for the new stadium during organized team activities at the 49ers training complex. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A good pair of jeans, are a good pair of jeans. So why have I preferred Levi’s over other brands?  I am all San Francisco and have viewed Levi Strauss & Co. the same way for years. However, reading the history of founder, Levi Strauss made his jeans a perfect fit for me.

Mr. Strauss began manufacturing his iconic brand in 1853 San Francisco, establishing a great reputation on social issues in the process. Four years after his death in 1902, Strauss values and vision survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. The company continued to pay its displaced workers. Today, I question Levi Strauss & Co. stated, “Values and vision.”

“Levi’s Stadium” naming rights agreement with the San Francisco 49ers for $220 million over 20 years has me asking, where does the company’s values and vision appear in the deal?

Levi Strauss & Co. website’s values and vision statement:

“Empathy — walking in other people’s shoes…”

“Originality — being authentic and innovative…”

“Integrity — doing the right thing…”

“Courage — standing up for what we believe…”

A $1.3 billion dollar stadium project was relocated from the struggling SF Black community where they leased Candlestick Park since 1971, south of the city 35 miles to Santa Clara CA. Team owners then asked San Francisco elected officials for a favor. An option out of the team’s $ 6 million year 2015 lease, for the upfront fee of $1 million was granted unanimously by City Hall.

Mr. Strauss would have told current Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh, “Walking in other people’s shoes was never intended to be used to step on anyone.

Turner/Devcon, the lead construction companies on the project, reportedly sub-contracted only 1.6% of work to minority owned firms though they boosted of “20%” minority participation.

Authentic and innovative Mr. Strauss, known and honored for no prejudice, would have rejected the notion that less than 2% minorities are capable of building a stadium while 70% of the current roster (Black) possess the skill to play professionally.

Reprehensible, describes the 49ers blocking city efforts to improve the blighted housing “Alice Griffith Housing”, which sits across the street from Candlestick Park. The team feared construction would interfere with their season activities.

Dedicated to doing the right thing, Strauss would have worked with, not against the city to improve housing for the 49ers closest neighbor.

NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell vowed, in a June 15, 2011 letter that the NFL “Supports communities that support us.” Six months later, NFL owners loaned the 49ers $200 million to move out of the struggling community that supported the team since 1971.

Strauss, standing for what he believed, would have told commissioner Goodell, “You broke your promise.”

Sports teams have every right to look for greener grass. However, breaking every rule of respect in leaving a struggling community demands an answer. Did Levi Strauss & Co. co-sign this pattern of conduct by hitching its wagon to the San Francisco 49ers?

Content with my slightly expanded waste line, is partly why I am wearing jeans that do not fit me. The other reason is to protest blatant disrespect by the 49ers, NFL, Levi’s and SF City Hall of a struggling Black community.

Don’t worry, out of respect for myself and America, I promise no sagging. Nevertheless, I will be wearing my current small collection of jeans until the 2016 Super Bowl, slated to be hosted by the city of San Francisco.

I own one pair of Levi’s in my jean collection but in accordance with Levi Strauss & Co. stated policy, I will be donating all of them to charity.

Struggling communities across America where many NFL players got their start, rise up. With a dignified approach tell current Levi’s CEO, “These Jeans don’t fit.”

Send postcards to:

CEO Chip Bergh
Levi Strauss & Co.
1155 Battery Street
San Francisco, CA 94111

Allen Jones is a prison reform activist and author of Case Game. He lives in San Francisco and invites anyone to judge for themselves the chronicled disrespect of Blacks living in San Francisco at: