Imagine yourself as a college professor (which I am). And imagine you’re on a conference call with other professors discussing a student from the Sudan.
One of your professors gives you a document to read about said student. And as you read that document you come across words like “shiftless”, “lazy”, and “a sneaky young buck.”
A) Keep reading the letter
B) Stop reading and say “what the f@*k is this bulls@*t?”
That’s what happened to Danny Ferry, who has amazingly risen to the ranks of general manager with the Atlanta Hawks following a long, rather mediocre career as an NBA player. During a conference call with team officials, Ferry read a scouting report about Luol Deng that described him, among other things, 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 the back.”
Thank goodness Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon was on the conference call, and took offense to the reading of the scouting report that does describe Deng “in a bad way.” Here’s the letter that Gearon fired off to fellow Atlanta Hawk executives.
It’s not as if Ferry is new as a general manager, and that this can be overlooked as a “rookie” mistake. Ferry is about to enter his third year as GM of the Hawks. Prior to that he was the vice president of basketball operations of the San Antonio Spurs. And before that, Ferry was the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers for five seasons, a time when LeBron James helped the former Duke star to two NBA finals appearances.
That’s just to say that Danny Ferry has been around. And Ferry and Deng both share the connection of having played at Duke, where you would think the two must have some kind of personal bond. If Ferry knows Deng and the man that he is, that is even more reason for him to shoot down the scouting report as garbage.
And that’s why Gearon reported the letter, and asked that Ferry be fired. So far the team has decided to discipline him internally. The NBA plans no further punishment.
Deng’s response to this entire episode was classy:
HE HAS A LITTLE AFRICAN IN HIM”
“These words were recently used to describe me. It would ordinarily make any African parent proud to hear
their child recognized for their heritage.
“I’m proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me, not just “a little”. For my entire life, my identity has been a source of pride and strength. Among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can think of no greater privilege than to do what I love for a living while also representing my heritage on the highest stage. Unfortunately, the comment about my heritage was not made with the same respect and appreciation.
“Concerning my free agency, the focus should purely have been on my professionalism and my ability as an athlete. Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual, rather than be reduced to a stereotype. I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting.
“However, there is comfort in knowing that there are people who aren’t comfortable with it and have the courage to speak up. In the same way a generalization should not define a group of people, the attitude of a few should not define a whole organization or league.
“Ultimately, I’m thankful to be with an organization that appreciates me for who I am and has gone out of its way to make me feel welcome.”
Now it’s time for the Hawks response. And there is only one response. Ferry, whose reading of the scouting report prompted the investigation that led Bruce Levenson to announce he was selling his majority share of the team, has to go. No person who would read such a letter—and then fail to denounce its contents—should be allowed to lead any organization.
This is even worse than the Donald Sterling incident. Sterling, who should have been checked years before he was eventually forced to sell his team by the NBA, made his comments in a private setting that was secretly recorded.
Ferry read this letter to fellow management employees of the Atlanta Hawks, and felt comfortable doing it.
Imagine if Ferry, in a city that is 54 percent black in 2010, was allowed to make decisions on a team where the majority owner has already complained about the team’s black crowd, black cheerleaders, and black post-game shows.
In the end it won’t be black or white that decides Ferry’s future in Atlanta.
It will be green. And the Atlanta Hawks will be risking a lot of green by keeping him.