Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence in the midst of the racially charged controversy surrounding the team.
In June, 2014, the Hawks ownership group – led by majority owner Bruce Levenson, co-owners Michael Gearon Jr. and Sr., Ed Peskowitz, Todd Foreman and CEO Steve Koonin – held a conference call to discuss signing potential free agents. During the call, Ferry repeated offensive remarks about Luol Deng in a scouting report, including comments about how Deng “has African in him.”
The meeting then led to the discovery of an email penned by Bruce Levenson in August of 2012 to then-new GM Ferry, complaining to the owners of the team’s poor attendance. In the email, Levenson articulated that an “overwhelming black audience” may have “scared away the whites,” and that there aren’t enough wealthy black fans to build a strong base of season ticket holders. Levenson also discussed the high number of black cheerleaders, the abundance of hip-hop music at the games and even the fact that “the kiss cam is too black,” among other racially insensitive comments.
This issue comes right on the heels of Clipper’s former-owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime banishment from the NBA, after he was discovered making racist comments. This prompted Levenson to hire the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird to conduct an internal investigation. In early September, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports first reported that Ferry was maintaining he had only read off a scouting report which ended up coming from an ex-Cleveland Cavalier front-office excutive. Wojnarowski also released an audio recording that was then acquired by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, detailing Ferry expounding on his comments from the email and even making more insensitive remarks.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver then met with several owners and high-ranking league officials to discuss Levenson’s situation and concluded that he didn’t believe Ferry should lose his job. Despite Silver’s comments – since the audio recording release, Atlanta has privately punished their Ferry – he has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the team and has been replaced by Mike Budenholzer, and Levenson announced he is selling his majority stake in the Hawks due to the insensitive email he sent in August 2012. Levenson apologized for the email, and Silver released a statement commending him for taking responsibility for the situation.