The “We’ve got to get this right” mantra among bad-behaving and chagrined men in big-time sports touched close to home a few weeks ago.
That’s when it emerged that one-time Duke basketball great Danny Ferry, in his role as general manager with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, verbally relayed a series of disturbing words on a conference call, words that seemed designed to denigrate the heritage of former Duke basketball star Luol Deng.
The Hawks had interest in signing then-free-agent Deng to a contract. Ferry v. Deng. Both men much-admired members of the esteemed Blue Devils hoops family.
The words uttered by Ferry saw the light of day not long after one of the Hawks owners faced his own crisis. Bruce Levenson said he would sell his controlling interest in the team because a 2012 email he authored was horribly articulated on the subject of larger economic issues he linked to the Hawks’ loyal and large African-American fan base.
Levenson’s broadly announced decision to sell came after the email surfaced, of course. Not before.
Then came the Ferry story. The GM said his controversial stated comments on Deng originally emanated from others who’d been referring to Deng as part of scouting efforts, and he, Ferry, just repeated them. The GM explained that in public apology statement.
A few days later, with the story still simmering, Ferry went further: he put himself on a leave of absence and said he would get sensitivity training and meet with local leaders.
Ferry tried to make things right after he was aggressively called to task for being wrong, and when his front-office career was considered by some to be in jeopardy.
After the media coverage blew over somewhat, Deng eventually said he forgave Ferry. It took a while. He didn’t sign with Atlanta, either. Deng is suiting up for the Miami Heat now.
Here’s the question: why does doing the right thing, especially in sports, so often happen so reluctantly, and so often after the bad acts get splashed across the media and the web?
The same question arises again and again. In September, in our backyard, the Carolina Panthers took defensive end Greg Hardy off the playing squad for a July domestic violence conviction. That’s right, this discipline was handed down months later.
The Panthers’ get-tough action came only after the Ray Rice incident in the NFL, where the league’s commissioner indefinitely suspended the Ravens running back. And that step, as most people now know, came only after actual video of Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée in an elevator was televised. Endlessly.
Rice punched her in the face. Seeing the video, along with the resulting massive publicity, is when Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted to really get it right. Not earlier, when Rice had been seen dragging the woman out of the elevator like a rag doll.
Until the Rice video, the Panthers had planned to let Hardy play while waiting for an appeal to be heard later this fall. That made no sense. Convicted criminals can appeal cases for years. So the team did the backstroke, saying, “the climate had changed.” No, they’d simply fallen short, and now the nation knew.
Domestic assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment, racial insensitivity, ignorance or animus: all of this stuff is fairly easy to not do or to not have. It takes a lot of self-consumption, arrogance, weak thinking, no thinking or malice to get these things so wrong. They are not foolish accidents.
Sure, contrition is always good. A well-developed conscience is even better.
The Charlotte Hornets have been paying attention. One of their players, Jeffery Taylor, was arrested for domestic assault just under two weeks ago. In less than 48 hours, the Hornets had barred Taylor from team-related activities. They wasted no time. In a statement, the NBA club said: “As an organization, we understand and appreciate the seriousness of this matter.”
And in Danny Ferry’s second statement on the painful-to-hear phrases he pronounced to others regarding fellow Blue Devil basketball alum Luol Deng, Ferry said, in part: “I realize that my words may ring hollow now and my future actions must speak for me.”
He got that right.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at email@example.com or 919-219-0042.