Hawks apologise for racism row

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Atlanta Hawks chief executive Steve Koonin has posted an apology letter on the NBA team’s website, a week after a racism scandal erupted around the Hawks’ owner and general manager.

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Employees will undergo diversity training and a chief diversity officer will be hired, Koonin said, as the team tries to rebuild its reputation.

Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson announced last weekend that he would sell his controlling interest in the Hawks in the wake of a 2012 email in which he said, among other things, that “the black crowd scared away the whites.”

Last Monday, the probe that led to Levenson’s decision was found to have started last June after general manager Danny Ferry made racist remarks about African-born British NBA star Luol Deng during a conference call.

Ferry said Deng “has a little African in him” and added, “he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

That led to Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence and many calls for his firing, notably by retired NBA legend Magic Johnson.

Ferry said that he was only reading remarks made on various scouting reports, while NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that context kept it from rising to the same level as the April racist comments that led to a life ban for then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

Koonin appealed to Hawks supporters to cheer for the players even as he made his apology for allowing an atmosphere where racist remarks could be tolerated.

“We are very sorry,” Koonin’s letter began. “Over the course of the last week, the Hawks have let down our players, our employees, our fans and the city we love.

“Our shortcoming have been broadly shared – including how we have failed to operate well internally and externally. It has been humbling and, while we have read, seen and come to know many things about ourselves, our learnings have just begun.”

Koonin said the Hawks would reach out to community leaders, many of whom he offended on Wednesday with the last-minute cancelling of a scheduled meeting.

“We ask our fans to continue to support our players as we all learn through this process – we should not punish them,” Koonin said. “We aim to win as a collective team both on and off the court.”

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