Hawks’ Ferry wants to stay but can’t survive this (updated)

Danny Ferry is under fire for derogatory comments about former free agent Luol Deng. (Curtis Compton, AJC)

Danny Ferry is under fire for derogatory comments about former free agent Luol Deng. (Curtis Compton, AJC)

Danny Ferry says he regrets comments about Luol Deng. (Curtis Compton, AJC)

 

HERE’S A LINK TO THE FULL COLUMN THAT RAN ON MyAJC.COM

Danny Ferry has done an admirable job in his two seasons as Hawks general manager. He implemented a plan, cleaned out the wreckage and made some smart personnel acquisitions that sent the team in the right direction.

But it will be stunning if Ferry’s days with the Hawks continue much longer.

In the latest of a dizzying series of events that began Sunday with owner Bruce Levenson’s disclosure of a racially charged email now comes news that co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. has been demanding Ferry’s exit since June. The reason, as previously reported by the AJC, was a Ferry comment on a conference call with owners in which he described the negatives of free agency target Luol Deng, as having “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.”

According to Gearon’s letter, Ferry completed the slur by describing Deng as “a two-faced liar and cheat.”

In short, Ferry not only faces overcoming the stigma of his comments — with the public, every player on his team and players and agents around the league — he has a co-owner, Gearon, who wants him out. It’s difficult to see a scenario in which he survives.

The Hawks have made no decision on the matter. Ferry released a statement this morning, reading: “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, 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. I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation. I fully understand we have work to do in order to help us create a better organization; one that our players and fans will be proud of, on and off the court, and that is where my focus is moving forward.”

Gearon, a former controlling owner of the Hawks who was the team’s governor before the Levenson, now is largely in the background. He has little to do with the day-to-day operations and it’s known that he and Levenson haven’t always agreed on things.

In a letter obtained by WSB Channel 2, dated June 12, Gearon wrote to Levenson: “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. … 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. … As lifelong Atlantans with a public track record of diversity and inclusion, we are especially fearful of the unfair consequences when we eventually get thrown under the bus with Ferry. We are calling on you, as majority owner and NBA Governor, to take swift and severe action against Ferry. Our advisors tell us there is no other choice but to ask for Ferry’s resignation, and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause under his employment agreement.”

The entire letter is copied below.

Gearon might have some bitterness over the way things have evolved in the organization but he makes strong points. How can players and their agents look at the Hawks now without thinking of these ugly incidents? How can they move forward?

Levenson had to go. Now it’s clear Ferry has to follow. Another house-cleaning is needed. New ownership is needed. Overcoming this ugly mess won’t be easy for the Hawks. It seems like they’re always trying to overcome an ugly mess.

To: Bruce Levenson

From: SSG Group, LLC

Date: June 12, 2014

Re: Danny Ferry

As you know, last Friday there was a conference call attended by numerous persons including Hawks management and ownership. We believe that you and Ed Peskowitz were on the call, but we are not sure whether you were listening the whole time. During the call, which was recorded so that notes could be made for our partners unable to participate live, our GM Danny Ferry discussed player personnel issues at some length. 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.

As a minority partner with no effective say in decision-making, we were somewhat at a loss what to do next. So we consulted this week with two attorneys, one a very well-known and highly respected African-American former judge in Atlanta, and the other a highly regarded employment discrimination lawyer. They confirmed our fears and then some. The former judge put it pretty succinctly, saying that any African-American who heard the comments would interpret them as meaning “all blacks are two-faced liars and cheats.” The employment attorney opined that we as a team face significant exposure, possibly in the courts, but certainly in the court of public opinion, and, as we all know, within the league. She described the possible fallout as “devastating.” We agree.

Bruce, we are all too familiar with the current environment in the NBA and in the country generally from the fallout of Donald Sterling’s offensive comments. You have been on national television condemning Sterling and preaching zero tolerance of racial prejudice. We believe these comments by Ferry were far worse than Sterling’s because they were not from a private personal conversation – they were in a business environment on a business matter in front of a dozen or more people. If Ferry would make such a slur in a semi-public forum, we can only imagine what he has said in smaller groups or to individuals. We also note that the racial diversity of our management team has changed for the worse since Ferry took over. The media (and any savvy lawyer) would have a field day with that fact.

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. All of our partners have worked and spent a lot of money not just to make the Hawks winners, but to make our city and region proud of the organization. As lifelong Atlantans with a public track record of diversity and inclusion, we are especially fearful of the unfair consequences when we eventually get thrown under the bus with Ferry.

We are calling on you, as majority owner and NBA Governor, to take swift and severe action against Ferry. Our advisors tell us there is no other choice but to ask for Ferry’s resignation, and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause under his employment agreement.

J. Michael Gearon, Jr.

COMMENTING IS CLOSED ON THIS BLOG

 Previously on this subject:
— AJC: Levenson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar miss point about Atlanta
— MyAJC: Levenson gone but timing raises questions
— AJC: Hawks’ Levenson has ugly exit because of email
— MyAJC: Vivlamore: Ferry discipline coming
— AJC: Vivlamore: Steve Koonin says there’s no shortage of buyers
— AJC: Vivlamore: uol Deng was subject of racist remark
 
Some recent ramblings (free links)
— AJC: Levenson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar miss point about Atlanta
— MyAJC: Levenson gone but timing raises questions
— AJC: Hawks’ Levenson has ugly exit because of email
— MyAJC: Matt Ryan wouldn’t let Falcons lose
— MyAJC: Georgia Tech still looks wobbly at 2-0
— AJC: Short takes on Tech’s 38-21 win over Tulane
— AJC: Live blog: Tech tries to spoil Tulane’s party
— AJC: Weekend Predictions: Falcons (real ones) over Saints
— AJC: Weekend Predictions: Falcons (real ones) over Saints
— AJC: Video evidence of Stephen Garcia hitting bottom
— MyAJC: Falcons need Mike Nolan to create an illusion
— AJC: Michael Sam not being viewed as just a player
— MyAJC: With Todd Gurley, possibilities are endless
— AJC: Short takes: Georgia 45, Clemson 21
— AJC: Cantor’s magic tallis has cure to Braves’ problems (on Fridays)
— AJC: Weekend Predictions (no lie): Dogs over Clemson
— MyAJC: Richt, Georgia need another highlight
— MyAJC: Braves CEO Terry McGuirk vows ‘Everybody accountable’
— MyAJC: Full Q&A with Braves CEO Terry McGuirk
— AJC: It’s ‘Sack Schultz’ time. Think you can grill me?
— MyAJC: If Tech wins, it will be with a better option
— MyAJC: Predicting Georgia Tech’s season, game-by-game
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— MyAJC: Baseball repair list: Pardon Rose, quicken pace, shorten season
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— MyAJC: Mike Tice has a challenge — and he knows it
— AJC: Bobby Petrino, Todd Grantham reportedly feuding already
— AJC: Falcons can survive without Baker, not others
— AJC: FSU No. 1, Georgia No. 12 in poll of insignificance
— MyAJC: Trent Miles trying to change attitudes at Georgia State
— AJC: With Braves six back, is ‘Fat Lady’ singing?
— MyAJC: B.J. Upton, Braves continue their zombie walk
— MyAJC: Cancer didn’t slow Michael Cooper