Atlanta Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry has decided to step away from his position with the team indefinitely due to racist remarks made about NBA forward Luol Deng.
Last June, Ferry described Deng on a conference call with team officials as a player with "a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back." The GM also called Deng a "two-faced liar and cheat." His comments sparked an internal investigation that led to the discovery of a racially-charged email sent by Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson, which has since prompted him to sell his share of the franchise.
Ferry, who apologized for his remarks earlier this week, said he was merely repeating comments made by sources who were scouting Deng as a possible free agent signing. Koonin doled out an undisclosed punishment for his remarks, but decided against firing Ferry. But following the release of an audio recording of his remarks last night, the GM has decided to temporarily leave his role with the organization.
Here's what Ferry today had to say about his decision:
"No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.
Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them. Almost all the background information I provided during the lengthy presentation regarding Luol was positive and my personal and professional recommendation during the call was very much in favor of adding Luol to our team but I never should have uttered those offensive remarks and for that I apologize.
My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans. I realize that my words may ring hollow now and my future actions must speak for me. I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion. I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through.”
CEO Steve Koonin issued his own statement about the Hawks' plans address the team's race-related problems moving forward:
This afternoon, Danny Ferry requested, and I have approved, taking an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately. This has been an incredibly difficult time for him and his family and it is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing. As a human being, manager and friend, I wish him well as he undergoes this process.
While the issues related to race are deeply troubling, at the heart of this dispute is an unfortunate disagreement amongst owners. That said, we have taken several steps to address what we can do as an organization to be better and stronger, including working with a diversity consultant to examine us and to train us to ensure something like this never happens again, we are committed to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, and we have and will continue to meet with community leaders in an ongoing way to ensure our values reflect the community in which we play and work. The process of selling the team, which is to remain in Atlanta, is already underway.
Vice President of Basketball Dominique Wilkins, who's reportedly considered buying a stake in the franchise, personally reached out to Deng last night about Ferry's remarks. He tweeted about the conversation earlier this afternoon:
Personally called @LuolDeng9 had a great convo last night. We spoke about his high level of character in response to recent events. cont’d
— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) September 12, 2014
In a business blurred by bottom lines & ego we cannot EVER forget our moral compass & the obligation to treat people 1st, player 2nd! cont’d
— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) September 12, 2014
@LuolDeng9 is a shining example of character, class & professionalism. I expressed my deepest apologies on behalf of the Hawks organization.
— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) September 12, 2014
@LuolDeng9 is a person AND player I would be elated to brng into my locker room & ANY aspect of my association The Heat r lucky to have him!
— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) September 12, 2014
In Ferry's absence, Head Coach Mike Budenholzer will oversee basketball operations and report directly to Koonin.
The meeting had been requested following racial remarks made by both Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson, who in 2012 sent an email to officials stereotyping the team's black fanbase, and General Manager Danny Ferry, who last June made disparaging remarks about NBA forward Luol Deng. After the team launched an investigation after another co-owner complained about Ferry's comments, Levenson disclosed his email and announced that he would sell the team in response. Koonin has disciplined Ferry with an undisclosed punishment.
On Tuesday, Rev. Markel Hutchins, a community activist who once acted as a spokesman for (and later sued) the family of Kathryn Johnston, spoke with Koonin to confirm the meeting. Upon the sitdown's cancellation, the group took turns expressing their frustrations - Hutchins even went as far as to compare the Hawks leadership to plantation owners - at a press conference outside the meeting. WABE's Michelle Wirth shares some details about what happened:
Reverend Markel Hutchins said the fact the meeting did not take place is symptomatic of what he believes is the culture within the Hawks.
“Evidentally as we suspected there is a culture of disrespect and disregard for people of color who can do anything other than run up and down the basketball court and make the administration of the Hawks millions and millions of dollars.”
Hutchins said on Tuesday a public relations official for the Hawks asked for the meeting to be postponed. However, Hutchins said he told the official since Koonin originally scheduled the meeting he would have to call and personally cancel. Hutchins says that didn’t happen so civil rights leaders showed up at Phillips Arena. He says leaders planned to ask for Danny Ferry to be fired or resign due to racial comments he made about free agent Luol Deng during a June conference call.
“There is no way that a man who uses the kind of language and holds the kind of sentiments that he does should be the general manager of the basketball team in the home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the cradle of the American civil rights movement.”
Hawks spokesman Garin Narain insisted the Hawks CEO still intended to meet with the group of civil rights leaders.
"This conversation is a priority for us," Narain said in a statement. "We are committed to having this meeting and will work with community leaders to reschedule as soon as possible. We ask our community to work with us, be patient with us, and help us heal.”
Following their demonstration, the civil rights activists staged a sit-in inside the Philips Arena lobby that lasted for about 15 minutes. According to WSB-TV, the protesters left once a security guard informed them that Hawks exec was not planning to speak with them.
The Atlanta Hawks will be purchased by a new owner in the coming months. That's about all we know about the team's future following majority owner Bruce Levenson's decision to sell the team because of a racist email he sent to team officials in 2012. Among those potentially interested in purchasing the team could be a familiar face: former Hawks legend Dominique Wilkins.
Wilkins, who has served as the Hawks' vice president of basketball for the past eight years, is reportedly looking at buying a stake in the team. TMZ, relying on multiple sources, reports that Wilkins is "extremely interested" in buying the team with a "very well-known businessman." Wilkins has remained quiet since Levenson's remarks surfaced, but has promised to comment in the near future.
I am not commenting at the moment on the latest breaking news regarding any Hawks business. I will release a statement in time. Thanks.
— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) September 7, 2014
Thank you to all my fans and concerned Hawks community. Please be patient with me. I will be commenting on the recent Hawks news shortly.
— Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21) September 9, 2014
The Hawks yesterday hired an investment bank to help with the sale of the franchise. It's unlikely that the team will be relocated, in part due to interest by the team's minority co-owners to keep the team in Atlanta.
Wilkins told Saporta Report he would discuss his thoughts about the Hawks organization at a press conference tomorrow.
“My focus is not about me. It has a lot to do with how I feel and how we have been hurt as a city. I’m going to state everything on Thursday," Wilkins told Saporta Report.
Could he make an announcement happen there? Stay tuned.
According to multiple news outlets yesterday, Ferry reportedly characterized Deng, who eventually signed with the Miami Heat, as "a good guy overall" who's "got some African in him" during a June conference call with members of the Hawks organization.
But it appears those initial reports didn't include his full remarks. In a June 12 email obtained by WSB-TV, Hawks minority partner Michael Gearon said that Ferry described Deng as a player with "a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back." Ferry also described the Sudanese-born forward as a "two-faced liar and cheat."
In that same email, Gearon urged Hawk majority owner Bruce Levenson, who on Sunday announced that he would sell the team for making racist remarks in a 2012 email, to either ask for the GM's resignation or terminate his contract.
"If Ferry's comments are ever made public, and it's a safe bet to say they will someday, it could be fatal to the franchise," Gearon wrote.
Gearon, who added that Ferry's statement "put the entire franchise in jeopardy," consulted with several attorneys and a former Atlanta-based judge who told them that the team could face a "devastating" legal fallout. He also wrote that the diversity of the Hawks' staff had worsened since Ferry joined the team.
Hawks spokesman Garin Narain confirmed to CL that CEO Steve Koonin has disciplined Ferry, but said the team would not publicly disclose the terms of his punishment. Koonin told the AJC the punishment would exceed a recommendation from law firm Alston and Bird, which conducted 19 interviews and reviewed more than 24,000 documents as part of an internal investigation.
Ferry today apologized in a statement for his "insensitive remarks" that were made during the team's review for the draft and free agency in the NBA offseason. He said he was "repeating comments" made to him that were compiled from a series of background conversations with sources.
"Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it," Ferry said in a statement. "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."
According to Yahoo Sports, Ferry spoke with Deng's agent, Ron Shade, to offer his apology. Shade said that the GM had not yet spoken with Deng.
"Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual, rather than be reduced to a stereotype," Deng said a statement released on Tuesday night. "I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting. However, there is comfort in knowing that there are people who aren't comfortable with it and have the courage to speak up. 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."
This story has been updated to include additional information.
Broken Window Theory's Hank Samuels rarely misses a Georgia Bulldogs game. The artist says he's been rooting for the Dawgs his entire life, so when junior running back Todd Gurley II went full beast mode against Clemson last Saturday he decided to honor the amazing performance.
"I think any UGA fan would have done the same if they could, we've been hurting for a national championship for 34 years (the last one was 1980), and I think we have the chance to do something really special again this year," says Samuels, a former CL arts intern, who painted a mural of Gurley II in an "undisclosed location."
Samuel's piece has since made the rounds on sports websites and blogs, and even got response from Gurley. Creative Loafing spoke to Samuels via email about his mural.
HBO just released their second promotional trailer for "Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons." Fifteen seconds shorter than its predecessor, the clip features Matt Ryan and text that reads, "The time to rise up is now." Whether or not appearing on HBO's popular sports series is a good thing for the Atlanta Falcons is a topic of debate, but, doubts aside, with a mix of personalities like Roddy White and D-Block there's sure to be plenty of entertainment. Oh, and some sports.
"Hard Knocks" premieres Tues., Aug. 5, at 10 p.m.
When the Atlanta Falcons start training camp in two weeks, following last season's 4-12 finish, they may have more to focus on than learning new plays. For the first time, the HBO show "Hard Knocks" will document the team's behind-the-scenes practices at Flowery Branch.
The first official trailer of the show's upcoming season, which starts Tues., Aug. 5, dropped a few days ago. But if the prospect of HBO's birds-eye-view excites you, it may mean you're a bigger fan of "Hard Knocks" than the Dirty Birds themselves.
AJC sports writer Jeff Schultz suggested as much in a column following the announcement that the Falcons would be featured on the show this season after turning it down such a request in 2009. In his estimation, the decision puts the business of branding ahead of the team's betterment.
Schultz even gave Arthur Blank a Home Depot analogy just to make it plain:
Let me put this in terms owner Arthur Blank can understand: “You just mandated that the sheet rock salesmen at Home Depot ride around the store on unicycles while juggling — all in the hopes it would stimulate sales of Home Depot painter hats.
Looking for a place to watch tomorrow's World Cup game between the United States and Belgium? Piedmont Park will offer two options.
Terminus Legion, the grassroots fan group that helped push for a Major League Soccer team in Atlanta, and Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall have organized a party on the lawn area outside Park Tavern. A big screen will broadcast the game. According to the Facebook event page, the fun starts at 3 p.m. near 10th Street and Monroe Drive.
On the other side of the greenspace, Mayor Kasim Reed is hosting a free viewing party at Greystone, one of Piedmont Park's event spaces. Screens will be located throughout the venue, the city says. That shindig, which will include some refreshments and a cash bar, kicks off at 4 p.m. The address is 1491 Piedmont Ave.
Know of other viewing parties? Post 'em in the comments.
Just in time for their Game 6 matchup with the Indiana Pacers tonight, the Atlanta Hawks have unveiled a new (old) secondary logo. From 1972-1995, the Hawks logo featured a side profile of the bird of prey, which ultimately drew comparisons to the title character of the popular Pac-Man video game.
Since 1995, there have been a couple of changes to the uniform. A switch was made from Pac-Man-Hawk to a Hawk clutching a basketball (think the Dikemebe Mutombo's finger-shaking antics and Mookie Blaylock being Mookie Blaylock). The most noticeable change, however, came with a new color scheme in 2007 (yea, the Josh Smith and Mike Woodson days) of navy, red, and white and the use of "ATL" being featured more prominently on the front of the jersey. The new logo embraces the current fan base's thirst for the glory days of Dominique Wilkins.
In fact, the Hawks will let the fans get a taste of the Pac tonight with free t-shirts (pictured below) to promote their #PacIsBack campaign. If the 8th-seeded Hawks can upset the top-seeded Pacers tonight, they will become the worst team to advance in the playoffs since the format was expanded to 16 teams. Pre-sale orders for the new gear goes on sale soon.
All fans in attendance tonight will get a shirt like the one @BFinn86 just tweeted! pic.twitter.com/IWkpGZp6jX
- Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) May 1, 2014
Yesterday afternoon, in an event space overlooking Downtown and the not-long-for-this-world Georgia Dome, Atlanta was officially named the home of Major League Soccer's 22nd expansion team. Arthur Blank, flanked by Mayor Kasim Reed, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, and chant-happy grassroots fan group Terminus Legion, said the city and metro region are ready for a professional soccer squad. And that he was willing to pay between $70 million and $100 million to own the team. The team will kick off in 2017 in the proposed stadium that the Home Depot co-founder's Atlanta Falcons will call home - provided court challenges and construction issues don't delay its opening.
Blank told the crowd gathered at Ventanas that the $1.2 billion football facility will feature technology that will create a game-day environment conducive to football and soccer games. The lower bowl seats will retract to allow for a wide field and upper-level seats will be covered. Plus, he promised that he'd make sure fans would never see NFL lines on the field during a MLS game.
Here's a simulation of what the stadium could look like during games, courtesy of the MLS Atlanta 2017 YouTube account:
He also told CL that the team wouldn't be an afterthought to the Falcons. The organization would have its own staff, offices, and facilities - they'd be separate entities. No people would serve in dual roles.
Atlanta is the MLS' third expansion team in the Southeast in recent years and perhaps its largest untapped TV market. Garber said Atlanta was representative of what he considers the "New America" - a demographic that's young, diverse, connected, and makes up a large chunk of MLS' fan base. As Maria Saporta noted, Garber said the proposed stadium also played a role, as the league's had greater success with similarly located facilities in other cities. Reed also noted metro Atlanta's claim to having the second-fastest growing foreign-born population in the country and its strong youth soccer programs.
Many questions remain. How much will tickets cost (you can sign up for them here)? Will Atlanta's fickle sports fans show up for soccer games? And what happens to the Atlanta Silverbacks? It's still unclear if the city's existing professional team that's survived since the mid-1990s, will play any role. Neal Malone, the team's marketing director, told me before the announcement that the two organizations have already had brief talks and the Silverbacks are "confident we can work together in some capacity to grow soccer in Atlanta." Blank also told us they've had talks about working together. Neither side, however, knows what that relationship might look like. Malone imagines, "under the right circumstances that the market could support two teams."
The Silverbacks could enjoy a bump in excitement in the three years between now and kickoff, time that Blank says the organization will spend working to boost the fanbase and building a team. He said he has no personal bias as to what the team will be named. All decisions about the team's image - its logo, mascot, color scheme, etc. - will be decided largely by the fans.
"My family asks me, 'What's the [team] name?'" he said. "Ask the fans."
After the jump, photos by Dustin Chambers of yesterday's announcement
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