ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks cancelled a scheduled meeting between their CEO and city civil rights leaders Wednesday, prompting one of the group’s leaders to say his community was greatly offended.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins said the meeting with CEO Steve Koonin was called off “at the last minute.” He later said he received a call from Hawks spokesman Garin Narain on Tuesday night asking the appointment be postponed.
Hutchins said he needed to hear that request from Koonin, and because Koonin didn’t personally cancel the meeting, the group of 12 civil rights leaders showed up as planned.
When they entered Philips Arena and were told there would be no meeting, Hutchins and the other leaders said they were insulted.
“The entire civil rights community, locally and nationally, have been offended, the likes of which we have not seen in this community in decades,” Hutchins said.
The group asked for the meeting to discuss what Hutchins said was the Hawks’ “disrespect for people of color.” The request followed racially charged comments by Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson and general manager Danny Ferry.
In a statement Wednesday, the Hawks asked for patience from the community and said they want to reschedule the meeting.
The Hawks did not say why the meeting was cancelled.
Levenson said Sunday he will sell his majority share of the team. Koonin said Tuesday Ferry has been punished but won’t be fired.
Ferry made inflammatory comments about forward Luol Deng in a conference call with the Hawks’ ownership group in June when the team pursued Deng as a free agent. Ferry described Deng as someone who “has a little African in him.”
Deng, who was born in what is now South Sudan, now plays for the Miami Heat. He responded to Ferry’s comment on Tuesday by saying, “I’m proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me, not just ‘a little.'”
A letter from co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. to Levenson recommended that Ferry resign or be fired. Gearon said Ferry made that description of Deng to the team’s ownership group.
Added Gearon: “Ferry completed the racial slur by describing the player (and impliedly all persons of African descent) as a two-faced liar and cheat.”
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