The Atlanta Hawks are in too deep now, and it has little to do with owner Bruce Levenson. As alluded to in last night’s Tweet post, general manager Danny Ferry is in hot water for reading a racially insensitive scouting report aloud during a conference call with Hawks management and ownership back in June.
Some of the comments were suggesting that then free agent Luol Deng had “a little African in him” and that he is the kind of guy who “would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”
As more information about the scouting report has come to light, it raises some questions. Why didn’t Ferry omit those comments rather than read them aloud? Why would he rely upon – much less employ – scouts who give such insensitive reports? Surely, even if what they were alleging were true in some way, there is a better way to report that a free agent is two-faced than using disparaging comments that not only belittle the athlete but also insult an entire continent of people.
On Tuesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an email that minority owner Michael Gearon, Jr. sent to majority owner Levenson regarding Ferry’s comments on June 12, 2014.
In the e-mail, Gearon states that he (along with other minority owners) sought advisement from two lawyers — one an African-American and former judge, the other an employment discrimination lawyer. The latter opined that the team would face significant exposure, in publicity and (possibly) in court, and that the fallout could be potentially “devastating.” He goes on to mention that their advisors suggest the team should “ask for Ferry’s resignation, and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause under his employment agreement.”
At the very least, Gearon’s e-mail shows that he and the other minority owners were sensitive to the comments relayed by Ferry on the conference call. It also illustrates the swiftness with which he sought action within the organization. Ferry’s comments led to the team having an investigation run on itself which ultimately brought to light Levenson’s 2012 e-mail.
Ferry released a statement Tuesday.
President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Danny Ferry has released a statement. Read it here: http://t.co/DQMJ90ltXn
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) September 9, 2014
In regards to the insensitive remarks that were used during our due diligence process, I was repeating comments that were gathered from numerous sources during background conversations and scouting about different players. I repeated those comments during a telephone conversation reviewing the draft and free agency process. Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I apologize to those I offended and to Luol, who I reached out to Monday morning.
In terms of the email that Bruce sent, the situation is disturbing and disappointing on many levels and I understand Bruce’s words were offensive.
I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation. I fully understand we have work to do in order to help us create a better organization; one that our players and fans will be proud of, on and off the court, and that is where my focus is moving forward.”
Utah Jazz forward Trevor Booker questioned whether Ferry should remain with the Hawks.
Should Danny Ferry resign? — Trevor Booker (@35_Fitz) September 9, 2014
Former Lakers great and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson also spoke about the situation in Atlanta.
I’m happy to see that Bruce Levenson is selling his share in the Atlanta Hawks after making racist comments. — Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) September 9, 2014
Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry should step down after making racist statements about NBA player Luol Deng. — Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) September 9, 2014
I feel bad for my good friend & Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who has been put in an awkward position by the comments from Levenson and Ferry. — Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) September 9, 2014
The City of Atlanta and the Hawks fans deserve and should demand better from the Hawks leadership. — Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) September 9, 2014
CBS sports personality Doug Gottlieb sought insight from someone who worked with Ferry.
Text from an African American former employee under Danny Ferry “He is getting a raw deal,he is a great guy,not close to being a racist” — Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) September 9, 2014
Stu Jackson, former executive vice president of the NBA, was openly incensed by the disparaging comments that Ferry shared in the June conference call.
Deng, who now plays for the Miami Heat, released a statement responding to the comments.
HE HAS A LITTLE AFRICAN IN HIM
These words were recently used to describe me. It would ordinarily make any African parent proud to hear their child recognized for their heritage. I’m proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me, not just “a little.” For my entire life, my identity has been a source of pride and strength.
Among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can do no greater privilege than to do what I love for a living while also representing my heritage on the highest stage. Unfortunately, the comment about my heritage was not made with the same respect and appreciation.
Concerning my free agency, the focus should purely have been on my professionalism and my ability as an athlete. Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual rather than be reduced to a stereotype…”
He goes on to express his sadness that people think such insensitive things and praises his new team [Miami] for being more accepting of him. Deng even asserts that Ferry’s actions should not be held against the team, “In the same way a generalization should not define a group of people, the attitude of a few should not define a whole organization or league.”
CEO and co-owner Steve Koonin publicly supported Ferry in an interview with Atlanta sports radio station 92.9 The Game, stating that he “is the GM of the Hawks today because there was a process.” He points out that Gearon’s e-mail requesting Ferry’s dismissal came before the subsequent investigation. He has since levied punishment upon Ferry that ‘far exceeded’ the recommended discipline prescribed by the law firm of Alston & Bird, which led the investigation. He maintains that he will keep the punishment private, as public opinion would likely be split as to whether it was harsh enough.
His discipline, though not public, seems to have appeased the league.
NBA reiterates Tuesday it will not seek to discipline Hawks GM Danny Ferry above and beyond team sanctions. #ATLHawks
— Chris Vivlamore (@CVivlamoreAJC) September 9, 2014
That may be understandable, though it leaves a lot to question. Even if Ferry’s punishment was severe enough, what impact will his comments have on the team in the future? Will his momentary lapse in judgment during that conference call prevent marquee free agents from wanting to play for Atlanta?
Considering the Hawks are due to have roughly $30 million in cap space in 2015, how the public – and, more importantly, NBA athletes – perceive Ferry may have huge implications in the near future.