Danny Ferry took an indefinite leave of absence from the Atlanta Hawks. Today, the Hawks announced its general manager officially parted ways with the organization.
The Atlanta Hawks announced today that Danny Ferry has stepped down as General Manager of the team. The move follows an indefinite leave of absence Ferry began in August, at the request of the team. The leave was triggered by the unauthorized release of an audio recording containing a brief portion of a lengthy conference call with team ownership and others during which Ferry repeated and paraphrased language from a third-party scouting report that contained a culturally insensitive characterization of a player.
According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ferry and the Hawks reached a buyout agreement on June 19. Vivlamore asked Ferry if he felt "vindicated" after an investigation cleared him of making racial remarks regarding Luol Deng. Ferry responded, per Vivlamore:
That’s not really for me to say. But I do feel relieved. I’ve been asking the Hawks for many months to release the results of the Taylor investigation because I wanted everyone to have those facts. For whatever reason, the team refused to release the results until after the season ended. The Taylor investigation included 19 interviews of Hawks owners and employees, and a review of 24,000 emails—including every one I wrote and received as general manager. Both the Taylor investigation and a parallel but independent investigation by the NBA found no negative information about me and not a single incident where I exhibited racial bias during my tenure. Now, does that make my comments about Luol okay? Absolutely not. The words I used from the scouting report came out of my mouth and they were totally inappropriate. I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility.
Ferry also released a statement as part of the Hawks' announcement:
While the past year has been incredibly difficult and humbling, it is critical for me to clear my name and for people to realize that I have always built a culture of respect, diversity, and honesty. Now that the key facts have been made known, I am making the difficult decision to step away from this team and this special group of players. I have seen how gracious and forgiving people can be – especially Luol, who had every right to be hurt and angry after being brought into this situation. I thank him for his forgiveness and support. I also greatly appreciate that our players and coaches have been supportive, along with so many friends, old and new. As the Hawks move to a new chapter, I will continue to support the players and wish them the continued success that they and the fans of Atlanta deserve.
Last September, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported Ferry made a racially insensitive remark about Deng when the team was discussing whether or not to pursue the small forward in free agency.
Sources told Wojnarowski that Ferry said, "(Deng's) still a young guy overall" and "a good guy overall. But he's not perfect. He's got some African in him. And I don't say that in a bad way." It was on Sept. 7 Ferry "disclosed those comments with an apology" to coaches and players on the team.
Deng provided a statement on Sept. 9 in response to Ferry's comments, courtesy of Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick:
Ferry's comments came directly on the heels of a statement released by Hawks owner Bruce Levenson to NBA.com that he would be selling the franchise after self-reporting to the league office an e-mail with "inappropriate and offensive language."
Sporting News noted it was Ferry's comments that initiated the team's internal investigation:
On Monday, the Hawks provided details into the investigation:
Prior to today’s announcement, the Hawks organization retained a highly respected law firm, Alston & Bird LLP, and specifically a team led by senior partner Bernard Taylor, to investigate whether the remarks were racially motivated. Investigators conducted 19 witness interviews, including interviews of Ferry and several Hawks owners, and reviewed the contents of more than 24,000 emails, including every available work email sent or received by Ferry in his capacity as General Manager. The investigation by Alston & Bird made clear that the offensive language was not Ferry's and none of Ferry’s remarks or behavior during the call were motivated by racial or ethnic animus, or by a person’s country of origin. To the contrary, Ferry shared his own opinion of Luol, recommended him both personally and professionally and ultimately tried to sign him to the team. The investigation revealed no other negative information on Ferry.
Hawks CEO Steve Koonin did discipline Ferry after news of his comments got out, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. However, the report says that Koonin's punishment for Ferry was undisclosed.
Koonin released another statement Monday when the team announced Ferry's departure:
This season has proved two things. First, Danny Ferry is a tremendous GM. Danny was the principal architect of the Hawks’ success in Atlanta. From the hiring of Coach Bud to reinventing the roster, Danny's vision has put us in the tremendous place we are today. Danny acted with integrity and professionalism as he guided the organization through important changes over the last few years. Second, Danny Ferry is not a racist. Danny showed great leadership in stepping aside in the fall so the season could proceed with as few distractions as possible. He has always put the team first despite the great personal difficulties he endured. Now that the team has identified new ownership, the resolution of Danny’s contract with existing ownership is appropriate. We wish Danny and his family only the best moving forward.
Media.CMGDigital.com provided a letter Hawks minority owner J. Michael Gearon Jr. sent to Levenson asking for Ferry to resign or in the event he refused to be terminated:
We are calling on you, as majority owner and NBA governor, to take swift and severe action against general manager Danny Ferry. Our advisors tell us there is no other choice to ask for Ferry's resignation and if he refuses, to terminate him for cause under his employment contract.
Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports shared a text conversation he had about the situation:
Ferry put himself and the Hawks in an untenable situation. He and the team found a middle ground for him to step away nearly one year after he took an indefinite leave from the franchise.
The Hawks have been a quality franchise in the NBA for the last decade, making the playoffs eight straight years and winning one postseason series every year from 2009 to 2011. They won a franchise-record 60 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since moving to Atlanta last season.
Now, the Atlanta franchise can move forward without having to deal with the headache that Ferry's presence certainly would have caused. The Hawks are a franchise on the rise and can focus on building off last year's success to get over that final hump in the postseason.