“At this point, we have not called for a boycott,” Tamika D. Mallory tells HollywoodLife, but that option is not off the table. Tamika the nationally recognized civil rights activist and co-founder of the social justice organization Until Freedom joined Black Church Political Action Committee co-founder Reverend Michael McBride in penning a letter to sports and entertainment collectibles organization Panini over the company’s lack of Black people in leadership positions, despite 75% of the organization’s business is reliant upon black and brown athletes.
“We’re calling for Panini to respond to our concerns and then swiftly engage in an overhaul of the company’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion practices,” Mallory tells HollywoodLife. “It’s important that Panini’s leadership explain to the public why there is little to no diversity at the executive level in their company and what their plans are to rectify the situation. We believe that a lack of public awareness allows companies to hide egregious business practices of all kinds. Corporations rely on a lack of transparency to continue operating with impunity. So Until Freedom and Black Church PAC are shining a bright and necessary light on Panini and putting other corporations on notice.”
Mallory and McBride issued their letter to Panini America CEO Mark Warsop on May 15. The letter noted that Panini had generated billions in revenue from merchandise featuring black and brown athletes, so excluding Black people in leadership roles was a critical issue. On top of that, of the organization’s 800 employees listed on LinkedIn, only 3 are Black.
“We learned about this situation because, as racial justice leaders, it’s not unusual for concerned individuals and community members to contact us with grievances,” Mallory tells HL. “Upon doing our own research, we saw instantly that the concern was warranted, and so we brought our teams together to strategize.”
Mallory and McBride shared their demands for diversity with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, New York Attorney General Letitia James, and California Attorney General Rob Bonta.
The letter issued an ultimatum for Panini to immediately take corrective action and hire Black employees to key leadership positions. If not, Until Freedom and the Black Church Political Action Committee will urge Panini’s partners and athletes which includes stars in FIFA, NBA, NFL, and the NBA Players Association, NFL Players Association, and the English Premier League to boycott the company.
“At this time, we have not called for a boycott of Panini,” Mallory assures HL. “Hopefully, before we reach that point, the company will come to the table to work on immediate solutions that will not only address Panini’s DEI failure but also provide a model for other companies.”
“But the first step is simple,” she adds. “Mr. Warsop and Panini America need to respond to our letter and acknowledge that there is a lack of Black executives in their company.”
When asked about the counterargument that will surely arise how the hiring practices of a private business should be on qualifications and merit and that a candidate’s identity shouldn’t be involved in the selection process Mallory said, “Actually, that is exactly why we’d like to know: what exactly are the qualifications of senior level positions at Panini?”
“What is the matriculation process for Black and Brown employees, and all employees to be promoted to senior level positions?” she continued. “Why are Black and Brown employees NOT moving up? What is their hiring process? What efforts have they made to diversify their job search outreach?”
“In terms of whether a candidate’s culture and identity matter it seems to very much matter to white people,” she adds. “What we see by the numbers is that Panini HAS chosen a culture and identity almost across their executive landscape, they’ve chosen white culture. Their sporting goods and trading cards use the talent, appearances, and intellectual property more than 75% of Black and Brown folks, yet that community is completely erased at the corporate level.”
Mallory and McBride issued their letter the same week that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that banned Florida’s state colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Republican lawmakers in a dozen states have proposed more than 30 bills this year targeting DEI programs, per the Associated Press. The increase in these legislative attacks has not gone unnoticed by Mallory and similar social justice activists.
“I would say that the culture of Trumpism and MAGAism — which is rooted in white supremacy and the idea of taking America ‘back’ to a time when white men held all power and Black and Brown folks were just laborers — drives the current right-wing culture,” Mallory tells HL. “The alarming efforts to replace democratically-elected Black representatives across the country, the fear-mongering about Critical Race Theory and the dismantling of DEI programs this is all part and parcel of white supremacy’s need to keep control of people and narratives.”
“And just as the opposition loudly and proudly work to deconstruct these hard-fought programs,” she adds, “and policies that seek to level generations of discrimination, we need to hold fast for equity for Black, Brown, and indigenous folks, equal pay for women, especially Black women, safe work spaces for our LGBTQAI siblings and more. It’s about more than one company, but we’re starting with Panini.”
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