Exclusive: Letters written to Danny Ferry clear him of racial bias

Danny Ferry’s comments about free-agent target Luol Deng were not motivated by racial bias, according to a summary letter of an independent investigation performed by the law firm Alston and Bird and obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The letter dated Friday was written by Bernard Taylor, who led the investigation in June 2014. He wrote to Ferry that he found statements repeated from a scouting report were not motivated by “racial, ethnic, or country of origination bias or animus” by Ferry. The Hawks general manager had his contract bought out Friday, ending his tenure with the team after a season-long leave of absence.

The AJC also obtained a letter written by Hawks co-owner Todd Foreman to Ferry that states “at the heart of this dispute was the unfortunate disagreement amongst owners.”

Ferry made racially insensitive remarks about Deng during a June 6, 2014 conference call with owners and management. As part of his review of Deng, who is from South Sudan, Ferry said “He’s got some African in him.” Ferry maintains he was reading from scouting report and that much of comments about Deng were positive.

The remarks prompted a letter of complaint from co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. to controlling owner Bruce Levenson in which he called for Ferry to be fired. An investigation by Alston and Bird was commenced. Taylor wrote that in his investigation he was given email, background reports and interviews and 24,000 documents. Taylor gave his summary to members of ownership, in person and by phone, on Sept. 10. The AJC obtained a partial recording of the June conference call the following day. Ferry then asked for and was granted an indefinite leave of absence Sept. 12. He remained away from the team the entire record-breaking season as the Hawks advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

During the investigation, a 2012 email written by Levenson that contained racist remarks about the fan base and game operations was discovered. Levenson announced his intention to sell his interest in the team Sept. 7. The rest of Hawks ownership eventually agreed to sell their stakes in the team. The finalization of a sale to a group led by Tony Ressler will be completed Wednesday.

Following the investigation and the announcement that Levenson would sell his stake, the Hawks said Ferry would not be terminated but would be disciplined. The discipline was a fine.

During Ferry’s absence, results on the investigation were not made public nor was he able to return to work. It appeared the manner would be left for new ownership, but a buyout was worked out Friday. The AJC reported that the buyout was reached and approved Friday at a team board of managers meeting.

Taylor, who is black, ended his letter as follows: “We reported the results of our work to the Hawks. In summary, the facts indicated that you repeated comments that were not your own about Mr. Deng from a scouting report during the call, and there was no evidence to indicate that during the call you acted in a manner motivated by negative bias toward Mr. Deng, his race or his country of origin. In fact, you strongly recommended Luol Deng and attempted to sign him for the team. Based on the materials reviewed within the scope of the investigation, we did not uncover facts indicating that your repetition of words contained within a scouting report was improperly motivated by race, ethnicity, or country of origin.”

The Hawks offered Deng a contract, but he eventually signed with the Miami Heat.

In his letter, writing on behalf of the Hawks organization, Foreman thanked Ferry for his many contributions as general manager.

He wrote: “We also thank you for your patience and perseverance during the 2014-15 season, and wish to make it clear that we wholeheartedly denounce any accusation or implication that you acted with racial bias while carrying out your duties as Hawks’ General Manager and you always exercised your leadership with unfailing integrity and professionalism.”

An official announcement of the buyout of Ferry’s contact, a six-year, $18 million deal signed in 2012, will be made Monday.