Miami Heat forward Luol Deng responded to a scouting report read by Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry on a conference call among the team’s executives. An owner deemed the description of Deng racially insensitive, and reading it aloud ultimately landed Ferry in hot water.
Ferry had quoted the report as saying Deng “has a little African in him. Not in a bad way, but he’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.” Ferry also quoted the report asserting that Deng was “two-faced.”
Deng’s statement elided any mention of Ferry, a fellow Duke alum, or any Hawks executives. He takes offense at the language used to describe him. His statement reads:
“HE HAS A LITTLE AFRICAN IN HIM”
These words were recently used to describe me. It would ordinarily make any African parent proud to hear their child recognized for their heritage. I’m proud to say I actually have a lot of African in me, not just “a little.” For my entire life, my identity has been a source of pride and strength. Among my family and friends, in my country of South Sudan and across the broader continent of Africa, I can think of no greater privilege than to do what I love for a living while also representing my heritage on the highest stage. Unfortunately, the comment about my heritage was not made with the same respect and appreciation.
Concerning my free agency, the focus should purely have been on my professionalism and my ability as an athlete. Every person should have the right to be treated with respect and evaluated as an individual, rather than be reduced to a stereotype. I am saddened and disappointed that this way of thinking still exists today. I am even more disturbed that it was shared so freely in a business setting.
However, there is comfort in knowing that there are people who aren’t comfortable with it and have the courage to speak up. In the same way a generalization should not define a group of people, the attitude of a few should not define a whole organization or league.
Ultimately, I’m thankful to be with an organization that appreciates me for who I am and has gone out of its way to make me feel welcome.
Deng, a free agent this past summer, signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the Miami Heat.
Both Hawks minority owner Michael Gearon Jr. and former NBA star Magic Johnson called for Ferry to be fired. Johnson tweeted, “Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry should step down after making racist statements about NBA player Luol Deng.”
Ferry has been disciplined by the team, according to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, but Koonin said Ferry will remain the team’s general manager. Ferry contacted Deng and his agents last weekend to apologize for his actions, and followed that by releasing a statement on Tuesday, which read: “Those words do not reflect my views, or words that I would use to describe an individual and I certainly regret it. I am committed to learning from this and deeply regret this situation. I fully understand we have work to do in order to help us create a better organization; one that our players and fans will be proud of, on and off the court, and that is where my focus is moving forward.”