Atlanta Hawks apologize to players, city for racism row
ATLANTA, USA – Atlanta Hawks chief executive Steve Koonin posted an apology letter on the NBA team's website Saturday, September 13 (Sunday, September 14 in PH) a week after a racism scandal erupted around the Hawks' owner and general manager.
Employees will undergo diversity training and a chief diversity officer will be hired, Koonin said, as the team tries to rebuild its reputation.
Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson announced last weekend that he would sell his controlling interest in the Hawks in the wake of a 2012 e-mail in which he said, among other things, that "the black crowd scared away the whites."
Last Monday, the probe that led to Levenson's decision was found to have started last June after general manager Danny Ferry made racist remarks about African-born British NBA star Luol Deng during a conference call discussing potential Hawks free agent options.
Ferry said Deng "has a little African in him" and added, "he's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back."
That led to Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence and many calls for his firing, notably by retired NBA legend Magic Johnson.
Ferry said that he was only reading remarks made on various scouting reports, while NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that context kept it from rising to the same level as the April racist comments that led to a life ban for then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and a sale of the team.
Koonin appealed to Hawks supporters to cheer for the players even as he made his apology for allowing an atmosphere where racist remarks could be tolerated.
"We are very sorry," Koonin's letter began. "Over the course of the last week, the Hawks have let down our players, our employees, our fans and the city we love.
"Our shortcoming have been broadly shared - including how we have failed to operate well internally and externally. It has been humbling and, while we have read, seen and come to know many things about ourselves, our learnings have just begun."
Koonin said the Hawks would reach out to community leaders, many of whom he offended Wednesday with the last-minute cancelling of a scheduled meeting.
"We ask our fans to continue to support our players as we all learn through this process -- we should not punish them," Koonin said. "We aim to win as a collective team both on and off the court."
'Blemish on team, city'
Koonin said the scandal went much deeper than the remarks that have caused a public outcry.
"Our shortcomings are beyond a single e-mail, a single person or a single event," Koonin said.
"To the contrary, over a period of years, we have found that there have been inflammatory words, phrases, inferences, and innuendos about race. We, as an organization, did not correct these failures. We did not do the right thing."
"As an organization, we must own these shortcomings and failures"
"I am angry that this has happened. I am deeply saddened and embarrassed that this has put a blemish on our team and our city... We should build bridges through basketball, not divide our community and serve as a source of pain."
"I am committed to seeing the Hawks change because of these past shortcomings. It starts by taking a hard look at ourselves, which in this case has been a particularly difficult thing to do."