On Sunday, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson announced he would be selling his controlling interest in the team after a 2012 e-mail surfaced in which he wrote about the team’s struggle to attract fans and sponsors from the white community. That e-mail was uncovered during an internal team investigation sparked by racially insensitive comments made by General Manager Danny Ferry during a scouting meeting over the summer.
On Monday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Ferry would face discipline for his comments but likely would keep his job. But now his status seems tenuous after his comments were fleshed out in an e-mail sent by Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon to Levenson in June.
In the e-mail, obtained by Atlanta TV station WSB, Gearon told Levenson about what Ferry said and called on Ferry to be fired or asked to resign:
With respect to one potential free agent, a highly-regarded African-American player and humanitarian, Ferry talked about the player’s good points, and then went on to describe his negatives, stating that “he has 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 completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly, all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat.
We are appalled that anyone would make such a racist slur under any circumstance, much less the GM of an NBA franchise on a major conference call. One of us can be heard on the tape reacting with astonishment. Our franchise has had a long history of racial diversity and inclusion that reflect the makeup of our great city. Ferry’s comments were so far out of bounds that we are concerned that he has put the entire franchise in jeopardy.
The player in question was free agent Luol Deng, who was born in Sudan. Deng ended up signing a free agent contract with the Miami Heat.
In his letter, Gearon wrote that the fallout from Ferry’s comments would be “fatal to the franchise” if they came to light and that Ferry’s comments were worse than what was said by former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling because “they were in a business environment on a business matter in front of a dozen or more people.”
On Tuesday morning, Ferry issued a statement in which he apologized for his comments about Deng:
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, whom I reached out to Monday morning.
Adrian Wojnarowki of Yahoo Sports says that Ferry’s statement likely won’t get him off the hook, despite his claims that he was reading from a scouting report written by a different person.
Wojnarowski also writes about the impact of Ferry’s comments on the rest of the league.