Hawks apologize for racially charged comments

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Atlanta Hawks - Bruce Levenson email controversy 9/7/2014
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Hawks apologize for racially charged comments
FILE - In this April 26, 2014, file photo, Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson cheers from the stands in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in Atlanta. Levenson said Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, he is selling his controlling interest in the team, in part due to an inflammatory email he said he wrote in an attempt "to bridge Atlanta's racial sports divide." (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Atlanta Hawks managing partner Bruce Levenson, center, reacts after a close call in the second half of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Atlanta. The Hawks won 98-85. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson watches from his courtside seat in the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 101-99 in overtime. (AP Photo/David Tulis)
Atlanta Hawks managing partner Bruce Levenson yells at an official in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 107-97. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Hawks managing partner Bruce Levenson looks on from the stands in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Singer Tauheed Epps, better known by his stage name 2 Chainz, left, speaks to Atlanta Hawks Managing Partner Bruce Levenson during a break between the Atlanta Hawks and the Indiana Pacers during the first half in Game 4 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series game, Monday, April 29, 2013 in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Washington Wizards' Gilbert Arenas greets fans after throwing his jersey into the stands after scoring 33 points in the Wizards' 114-106 win over the Atlanta Hawks in NBA basketball in Atlanta, Saturday, Jan.14 , 2006. Atlanta Hawks part owner Bruce Levenson, center, looks on in the background. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Bruce Levenson, co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks, holds his six-month-old grandson, Blake, on his shoulders as his team enters the court to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in an NBA game in Atlanta, Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. The Thunder won 94-91. (AP Photo/Rich Addicks)
Michigan State's Adreian Payne, right, poses for a photo with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the 15th overall pick by the Atlanta Hawks during the 2014 NBA draft, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
CORRECTS SPELLING OF LAST NAME TO PATTERSON, NOT PETTERSON - Atlanta Hawks first-round draft pick forward Adreian Payne, from Michigan State, right, speaks as second round pick guard Lamar Patterson from Pittsburgh, looks on during a news conference in Atlanta, Friday, June 27, 2014. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer during Game 7 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks in Indianapolis, Saturday, May 3, 2014. The Pacers won 92-80. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
Atlanta Hawks guard Louis Williams (3) looks down during a timeout late in the second half of Game 6 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Indiana Pacersin Atlanta, Thursday, May 1, 2014. Indiana won 95-88. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Hawks forward Elton Brand (42) reacts after a Hawks foul in the first half of Game 6 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series in Atlanta, Thursday, May 1, 2014. Indiana won 95-88. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) reacts after being called for a foul in the first half of Game 6 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in Atlanta, Thursday, May 1, 2014. Indiana won 95-88. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 03: Adreian Payne #33 of the Atlanta Hawks poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot at MSG Training Center on August 3, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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By CHARLES ODUM

ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Hawks released an open letter of apology to fans and city of Atlanta on Saturday, saying the organization "did not do the right thing" to correct racially inflammatory words and innuendos "over a period of years."

The apology, signed by CEO Steve Koonin, was released one day after the team announced general manager Danny Ferry was taking an indefinite leave of absence following his racially charged comments about Luol Deng.

Last Sunday, co-owner Bruce Levenson announced he'd sell his controlling share of the team following the release of his racially inflammatory comments in an email to Ferry and the team's other owners.

"We are very sorry," Koonin said in the letter.

"Over the course of the last week, the Hawks have let down our players, our employees, our fans and the city we love. Our shortcomings 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."

Ferry described Deng, who is from South Sudan, in a conference call with the Hawks' ownership group as someone who "has a little African in him."

"He's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back," said Ferry during the June call, which was recorded.

An internal investigation into Ferry's comments uncovered an email sent two years ago by Levenson, who theorized that "the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base."

Koonin said the Hawks' failures were not limited to Ferry's comments or Levenson's email.

"We know enough today, based on investigations conducted by the league, by external legal counsel on behalf of the team, and information that has appeared in the media, that our shortcomings are beyond a single email, a single person or a single event," Koonin said. "To the contrary, over a period of years, we have found that there have been inflammatory words, phrases, inferences, and innuendos about race. We as an organization did not correct these failures. We did not do the right thing."

Koonin said the Hawks "must own these shortcomings and failures."

"To be clear, I am angry that this has happened," he said. "I am deeply saddened and embarrassed that this has put a blemish on our team and our city, which has always been a diverse community with a history of coming together as one. We should build bridges through basketball, not divide our community and serve as a source of pain.

"I am committed to seeing the Hawks change because of these past shortcomings. It starts by taking a hard look at ourselves, which in this case has been a particularly difficult thing to do."

Koonin said the team will work with a diversity consultant and hire a chief diversity officer.

On Wednesday, Koonin cancelled a scheduled meeting with civil rights leaders, and the leaders said they were offended.

Koonin said in the letter the team also will reach out to community leaders "not just now, but in an ongoing way to ensure that our values reflect, in the broadest sense, the community in which we play and work."

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