By now most of you have heard of yet another National Basketball Association owner being caught making some racially charged comments resulting in being forced to sell his team. Apparently, Donald Sterling was quite the trailblazer. But I’m not here to talk about Atlanta Hawks owner, Bruce Levinson. I’m here to talk about their General Manager, Mr. Danny Ferry. I’d argue that what Mr. Ferry did was much worse than what his team owner or Donald Sterling did. For those of you who haven’t heard about this issue among all the others, it all starts with Ferry’s comments on a potential free agent and man of African descent, Luol Deng.
From the Chicago Tribune:
“Although he’s played a lot of minutes, if you manage it the right way, he’ll be fine. He’s still a young guy, overall. He’s a good guy overall, but not perfect. He’s got some African in him.
OK, I’m going to stop right there. So Luol Deng is a good guy overall. That’s nice. It’s just that the thing about Mr. Deng that prevents him from achieving perfect status, in the eyes of the General Manager is the African part. Gotcha. Well then, I guess the most obvious question becomes what is it about African people that makes them so objectionable? Based on this statement, one assumes that if Mr. Ferry were evaluating two players of similar skill sets and ages, he’d prefer the one that was the least African. But why guess what the now-suspended (voluntarily) GM might mean when he does a fine job of himself? He continues:
And I don’t consider that in a bad way…
I see! I’m going to stop again here because “I don’t consider that in a bad way” might the new “Not to sound racist or anything but…” You just know whatever comes before or after phrases like that will be problematic to say the least. And Mr. Ferry does not disappoint:
…other than is he’s a guy that’ll side deal behind you, if that makes sense. Like he has a storefront out front that’s beautiful and great, but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you.”
For example, he can come out and be an unnamed source for a story and two weeks later come out and say, ‘That was absolutely not me. I can’t believe someone said that.’ But talking to reporters, you know it’s him.”
“He could be a lawyer in the locker room when the coach is not around. But when the coach is around, could be the greatest guy in the world.”
Wow. I’m not sure about you all but I’m certainly glad he didn’t mean that in a bad way.
So, let’s break this down: being “African” means that you seem like a legitimate businessman, someone you can trust. But in actuality what you’re selling isn’t the real thing. So in the case of Luol Deng, he may seem like someone the Hawks might want to associate with, maybe even offer a free agent contract, but his African-ness makes him inauthentic. Being African is shorthand for duplicity. Got it.
Anything else you want to get off your chest about Africans, Mr. Ferry?
In Chicago, they will tell you he was a good guy for their culture but not a culture-setter. He played hard and all those things, but he was very worried about his bobblehead being the last one given away that year or that there’s not enough stuff of him in the team store. So, he’s a little bit of a complex guy.”
So again, Deng is a good guy. He even plays hard, bless his soul. But African players like him care a little too much about building their image and brand management?! Normally, this is the place in the post where I’d insert a snark-filled comment about how does being concerned with his image make him any different from any other NBA player, NBA franchise, or League itself. If there was ever a professional sports league that was obsessed with image, it’s the National Basketball Association. All leagues have dress codes on the field (what constitutes an appropriate uniform etc.) but the NBA pioneered rules telling players how they can and can’t dress while walking into the arena, after games, and even when you’re on injured reserve and on the bench. That would be before they even put their sweats on to practice, after the game post press conference, and even when they can’t play at all. But I digress. The point is when owners, General Managers and the like care about branding and are image conscious, it’s fine. Not so when you’re a player. Particularly one that’s got some African in him. Then again, I’m starting to wonder if the NBA and Hawks really do care about their image. If they did, Danny Ferry wouldn’t be on voluntary suspension. He’d be gone. This is so much worse than what the owners did. And I’ll explain why a little later on. But let’s get to Mr. Ferry’s apology:
“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,” Ferry said in his statement. “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.”
Yeah, no. Danny Ferry must go.
First of all, this is your story? Not your words? Really? Who are you, Ron Burgundy? You just read anything they put in front of you?
I’ve listened to the audio several times, and it doesn’t sound like he’s reading from any scouting report. There’s no “this is from Scout X” quote, endquote, nada. While it’s tough to technically fully disprove, the threshold for credibility on this kind of excuse is pretty high — and this weak sauce gets him nowhere close to that level.
Secondly, even if you wanted to be extremely charitable and say that he was just relaying what some other scout thought about Luol Deng, he certainly seems to have no issue with it. It’s just anecdote after anecdote about Deng is a good guy, but…He seems nice but is really two-faced. In front of the coach he’s one way but behind his back there’s this other side to him. He plays hard but isn’t really a team guy. All of these critiques are based on an association with his ethnic identity. It’s not like Mr. Ferry is saying, “I can’t believe organizations still talk about players like this,” or that he’s demanding to know why a scout would submit such total nonsense to him in place of actual, usable information, or that he finds these types of characterizations to be deplorable. Quite the contrary. This is part of his analysis of Deng. So its really cowardly for Ferry to try to foist this off on some unnamed scout.
Of course, according to Danny Ferry, this is the best case scenario: that there’s an unnamed member of his scouting staff that’s who’s so well-respected in the Atlanta Hawks organization that Mr. Ferry will repeat their analysis verbatim on a conference call with other team officials. This despite the fact that this mystery scout tends to pepper his player evaluations with racist nonsense regarding someone’s ethnic heritage. And it’s not that the GM believes this stuff. He’s just repeating it. Story after story with no recrimination whatsoever.
Does that not strain credulity?
Danny Ferry must go.
Donald Sterling lost his team because he became an embarrassment to the League. His comments, while vile, came in the context of a private conversation with his girlfriend. At the end of the day, it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball operations. Danny Ferry’s comments happened in a conference call with other team officials where he’s discussing whether or not to acquire a Luol Deng and what type of money he’d be willing to spend to get him. Part of those determinations are based on how a good a player and person Danny Ferry perceives him to be. Or as he might put it, how much African he has in him. So the League in its very-finite wisdom has decided that Donald Sterling basically saying that he doesn’t want his girlfriend hanging out with black people or having Magic Johnson on her Instagram is beyond the pale. But Ferry saying that Luol Deng can’t really be trusted as an employee because of his African nature is fine? In what world is that fine? You know what, I take back what I said about the NBA being image-obsessed. Considering the last year or so of these truly embarrassing mishaps, they might want to think through their public perception issues a little more closely.
One of the weirder triumphs of the Civil Rights movement is that the word racist has so much power. It’s the ultimate, most horrible thing that you can say about anyone. And no matter how obviously, cartoonishly racist people can be in America, no one, and I mean no one wants to be associated with that term. This goes for Denise Helms, the former manager of a Coldstone Creamery in California who lost her job for saying amongst other things “another four years of the n—“ after President Obama’s re-election victory, denying any racist feelings/intentions, all the way to the other end of the spectrum with a Virginia chapter of the KKK proclaiming themselves just another Christian organization. The Atlanta Hawks organization fits right in with this trend of walks-like-a-duck, quacks-like-a-duck, call-it-a-rhinoceros bullshit. It’s not that they’re racist or anything. And it’s not that Danny Ferry actually believes that Africans aren’t trustworthy. He was just repeating someone else’s words. On a conference call. About hiring decisions. To jovial laughter from his colleagues and peers. No racism there whatsoever.
But hey, I guess he learned from the best. Soon-to-be former owner Bruce Levenson had some interesting things to say on race as well. Don’t worry, though. It’s not that he actually thinks those things. He just has a theory that Southern whites feel uncomfortable with there being so many Blacks in the crowd, at the arena bars, on the Kiss-Cam, and on the cheerleading squad. The result of not actually thinking those things was of course to put more white faces on the cheerleaders and focus more on white people in the crowd for promotions and the like. See, no feelings there. And even when the crowd got down to 40% black patrons, it’s still too much. That’s how theories you don’t believe in work. Thanks science!
Don’t they even teach you people (written purposefully and with great flourish) how to speak in code in business school anymore?
Oh, and stop me if you’ve heard this before but —
DANNY FERRY MUST GO!