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Atlanta Hawks manager walks away after second alleged racist comment

Posted at 5:58 PM, Sep 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-12 17:58:57-04

(CNN) — Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry is taking an indefinite leave of absence, the NBA team’s chief executive announced Friday, days after a report surfaced about controversial comments Ferry allegedly made about a free agent player.

Ferry made the remarks about Luol Deng during a June conference call about prospective players, according to a letter obtained by CNN affiliate WSB.

J. Michael Gearon Jr., a minority owner of the Hawks, wrote the letter to team owner Bruce Levenson shortly after the conference call to complain about Ferry’s language. Gearon says that in describing some of Deng’s negatives, Ferry said “he 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 apologized for the comments in a statement Tuesday, describing them as “insensitive remarks.”

Then, Friday afternoon, he requested “an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said in a statement.

“It is my hope that this time away from the Hawks organization allows him the privacy he needs to listen to the community, to learn about his mistakes, and to begin the long process of personal healing,” Koonin said. “As a human being, manager and friend, I wish him well as he undergoes this process.”

Ferry released his own statement Friday, reiterating his apology to Deng and “all that I have offended.” He said “these were not my words” but “I deeply regret repeating them” regardless.

CNN on Friday obtained a copy of a scouting report that contained wording similar to what Ferry used.

“My focus moving forward is to tirelessly work to rebuild trust with this community and with our fans,” added Ferry, who said he would meet with community leaders to “further educate myself and others on the extremely sensitive issues surrounding race, diversity and inclusion.

“I will find a way to make a positive difference in this area, and further learn from the sensitivity training that I will go through,” Ferry said.

Follows a report about other racially charged remarks

The WSB report came days after Levenson announced he would sell his stake in the franchise following the release of a racially charged e-mail he wrote in 2012.

The e-mail was found by an outside law firm brought in to review the Hawks franchise following Ferry’s comments in June. The comments had spurred concern within the organization, especially given the uproar over former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racial remarks.

In the e-mail, which was sent to Ferry, Levenson described the franchise’s difficulties in attracting more affluent white season-ticket holders.

The e-mail — one of 24,000 pieces of evidence looked at as part of the outside investigation, according to Koonin — bemoaned the high number of black cheerleaders and said that white fans may have been scared away by black fans.

“Bruce was confronted with this e-mail from 2012,” Koonin told CNN’s Martin Savidge, “and he decided that instead of fighting it … he thought it was best for the city, for the team, for his family, to walk away.”

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