I am not a sports fan. In fact, I have never been to a professional basketball game, much less an Atlanta Hawks game.
What I know about the owners and managers of the Atlanta Hawks comes from what I have read in the local papers and heard on television — and of course, my own personal experience that bosses, and certainly very wealthy ones, don’t have much respect for the people who make the profits for them.
But as Bob Dylan opined, “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” There is no doubt that there is a blatant, crude, backward current of racist and white supremacist attitudes existing among the decision makers running the Atlanta team.
Majority owner Bruce Levenson abruptly announced on Sept. 7 that he was selling his shares in the team, citing an email he wrote in 2012 about the Black fans “scaring away the whites,” too much Black music in the arena, too many Black cheerleaders, and on and on. His announcement made local and national headlines and his derogatory comments were discussed by politicians, sports writers and news anchors.
Everyone was puzzled about what had caused Levenson to incriminate himself. Then it was revealed that an independent investigation was taking place of another incendiary set of comments by general manager Danny Ferry. On a June 6 conference call with four of the team’s owners, some investors and other members of the management staff, Ferry ripped potential free agent Luoi Deng, who is from South Sudan, with just about every racist stereotype possible. Mind you, Deng has been honored by a vote of National Basketball Association players for his ethical behavior on and off the court as well as by the United Nations for his humanitarian efforts in Africa.
‘Sorry’ is not enough
The owners of the Hawks are a fractious group, arguing in public and taken to suing each other, so it was not surprising that owner Michael Gearon Jr. would want Ferry, Levenson’s general manager, fired. Gearon apparently initiated the release of the June 6 audio recording and had also discovered Levenson’s 2012 email.
For a week, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin stood by Ferry but twice failed to meet with a number of noted Atlanta civil rights leaders and clergy, who arrived at his office but were turned away. These arrogant actions were duly covered on TV and in the newspapers. Rather than face the public, the Hawks’ management asked for “patience and time to heal.”
With national attention growing, Ferry announced his indefinite leave of absence, and on Sept. 14, the Hawks’ CEO placed a full-page ad in the Atlanta Journal Constitution headlined, “We are very sorry.”
This Atlantan non-sports fan says what is “sorry” is the disgusting, exploitative system that allows a handful of mostly white men to “buy” skilled athletic men, mostly Black, to make them millions in profits — all the while holding them in contempt as human beings. It is clear that Donald Sterling’s bigotry was no aberration in the NBA.
Sports, especially at the professional level, is a highly profitable business with TV rights, merchandising, stadium food and beverage sales, and more. Star players may earn millions during a relatively short career, but owners don’t even have to break a sweat to get theirs.
After Ferguson and so many more racist assaults and indignities, the exposure of the behind-the-scenes prejudices of the Hawks’ management just makes it clearer than ever that revolutionary change is needed in every facet of U.S. life.