The Atlanta Hawks released an open letter Saturday apologizing to their fans and the city of Atlanta because they “did not do the right thing” to correct racially-charged comments “over a period of years.”
The apology was signed by CEO Steve Koonin. It came a day after the Hawks announced that general manager Danny Ferry was taking an indefinite leave of absence for his racially-insensitive remarks about forward Luol Deng.
A week ago, co-owner Bruce Levenson announced he would sell his controlling share of the team after voluntarily reporting to the NBA that he made racist remarks in an e-mail about fans.
“We are very sorry,” Koonin wrote. “Over the course of the last week, the Hawks have let down our players, our employees, our fans and the city we love. Our shortcomings 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.”
Ferry said that Deng, who is from South Sudan, “has a little African in him,” during a recorded conference call with the team’s ownership in June. “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”
An internal investigation of the comments uncovered the e-mail sent by Levenson in 2012. In the e-mail, Levenson wrote that “the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.”
“We know enough today, based on investigations conducted by the league, by external legal counsel on behalf of the team, and information that has appeared in the media, that our shortcomings are beyond a single e-mail, a single person or a single event,” Koonin wrote in the letter. “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.”
He also wrote: “To be clear, 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, which has always been a diverse community with a history of coming together as one. 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.”
Koonin also wrote that the team will work with a diversity consultant and hire a chief diversity officer.
Earlier in the week, Koonin cancelled a scheduled meeting with civil rights leaders. The leaders of the groups said the cancellation offended them.
However, Koonin did write in the letter that the team will reach out to community leaders “not just now, but in an ongoing way to ensure that our values reflect, in the broadest sense, the community in which we play and work.”
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