Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry has taken an indefinite leave of absence in the wake of the controversy surrounding comments he made on a conference call with owners about soon to be free agent Luol Deng.
Ferry said he was paraphrasing a scouting report, but you can hear him on the audio of the call saying, “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 the back….. For example, he can come out and be an unnamed source for a story and two days later come out and say, ‘That absolutely was not me. I can’t believe someone said that.’ But talking to reporters, you know they can [believe it].”
Ferry released his own statement on Friday:
“No words can adequately describe my remorse for the hurt that I have caused many people through the statements I repeated, most importantly Luol Deng.
“Luol is a good man who I have known for many years and he has done a tremendous amount of good for his country and around the world. I apologize to Luol and I apologize to all that I have offended. As I have said, while these were not my words, I deeply regret repeating them. Almost all the background information I provided during the lengthy presentation regarding Luol was positive and my personal and professional recommendation during the call was very much in favor of adding Luol to our team but I never should have uttered those offensive remarks and for that I apologize.
“My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans. I realize that my words may ring hollow now and my future actions must speak for me. I will maximize my time during this leave to meet with community leaders and further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity, and inclusion. I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through.”
Deng has commented on this already, basically saying he is proud to be African and represent that continent. He also said he was sad to see race come into player evaluation like this.
Ferry is also caught in a bit of an ownership fight here — minority owner Michael Gearon Jr. used to have a bigger say in the organization (particularly with the roster/basketball side) but he had been effectively sidelined by Ferry and majority owner Bruce Levenson. Gearon called for Ferry’s job after this comment and is clearly trying to get some power back. This is all a continuation of one of the more dysfunctional ownership groups in the league (they sued each other a few years back).
None of that excuses Ferry’s comments.
As I have said on multiple occasions, his job is to read these reports and be a filter of them. There is no situation where passing that along to ownership could seem like a good idea.
Ferry is going to fight to keep his job (and he’s well liked around the league, he will have a basketball job somewhere if not with the Hawks). The problem is that whatever new owner is coming in — Levenson is selling his share after a separate email he sent suggesting ways the Hawks could draw more white people to their games — will need to repair a lot of relationships in the Atlanta area, including with sponsors and season ticket holders. I don’t see how he does that with Ferry and the shadow of this issue still on the organization.