The family bought their son Sammy his first basketball at the Nike store. (Courtesy of Joel Stallworth)

A black family who visited Nike’s Santa Monica Place location July 5 said the store’s manager was motivated by racism when she accused them of stealing a basketball they bought for their son and summoned police officers.

Joel Stallworth and TaMiya Dickerson took their 18-month-old son Sammy to the Nike store and bought him his first basketball. When they left the store at about 9:00 p.m. after waving goodbye to employees, a white female manager followed them outside and told Stallworth to give her the ball. 

Stallworth told her that he had bought the ball and kept walking, but she followed him for several blocks, accusing him of stealing it. She summoned nearby Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) officers. The family began arguing with the officers and the manager because they felt they were being racially profiled.

The officers then asked to see Stallworth’s receipt to confirm that he had purchased the ball and let the family go, said Lt. Saul Rodriguez. They returned the $12 ball for a full refund.

Stallworth, who was on the basketball and track teams at California State University, Stanislaus and now owns an apparel store in downtown Los Angeles, said the manager ruined a special moment with his son. 

“My son saw his father get accused of stealing,” he said. “This lady discriminated against me in front of my family.”

He added he felt the officers took the manager’s story at face value and did not assume his innocence. 

“I can’t say I was surprised, because being a black man in America we really don’t hold too much weight with the police,” he said. “The manager harassing me put me in a place where it was hard to calm down, and getting riled up in front of the police can end in death for people who look like me.”

Stallworth said he hopes the video Dickerson took of the interaction, which went viral online, sheds light on how often black Americans are racially profiled. He and Dickerson, a corporate consultant, are pursuing legal action against Nike for racial profiling and defamation of character. 

Their attorney Stephen King said the incident calls Nike’s employee policy and training into question and could suggest an ingrained racial bias in its corporate culture. 

“Our only recourse is to go to court and see if Nike is willing to make a change. If not, we’ll take it to a jury trial and have our peers decide if Nike did the right thing,” King said. “The ball is in their court.”

KeJuan Wilkins, Nike’s vice president of North America communications, said the company has apologized to the family and is investigating what happened July 5. The manager has been fired, King said.

“We are taking the recent situation at our Santa Monica store very seriously,” Wilkins said. “We have reached out to the family to express our deepest apologies, and we will continue to work with our teams to ensure we deliver on our expectations for consumer experiences.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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