At­lanta Hawks Di­ver­sity Coun­cil

NBA or­ga­ni­za­tion tack­les racial, LGBT di­ver­sity

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

Last year, the At­lanta Hawks found them­selves in the mid­dle of a pub­lic re­la­tions night­mare af­ter back-to-back in­stances of al­leged racism within their own­er­ship group and front of­fice.

First off were com­ments made by gen­eral man­ager Danny Ferry dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with team of­fi­cials in which he quoted racist ob­ser­va­tions about an NBA player from a scout­ing re­port not au­thored by him.

The in­ci­dent led to an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion that later turned up an Au­gust 2012 email writ­ten by then-ma­jor­ity owner Bruce Leven­son to Ferry and two co-own­ers in which he sug­gested that white fans were afraid of black fans, low mer­chan­dise sales could be at­trib­uted to a lack of dis­pos­able in­come among black fans, and that changes needed to be made to arena en­ter­tain­ment to cater more to white sea­son-ticket hold­ers.

Ferry took a leave of ab­sence, and de­spite be­ing cleared af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­cluded, he later left the team, while Leven­son an­nounced his plans to sell his stake in the team.

The in­ci­dents led the Hawks to hire Nzinga Shaw, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Edelman, as the NBA’s first “chief di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion of­fi­cer.” One of Shaw’s first or­ders of busi­ness was to form the Hawks Di­ver­sity & In­clu­sion Coun­cil, whose work is be­gin­ning to be rec­og­nized by At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity.

Openly gay man among mem­bers of coun­cil

When Shaw be­gan form­ing the coun­cil, she knew she didn’t want it to con­sist only of em­ploy­ees of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which is typ­i­cal of sim­i­lar groups in the busi­ness world.

“I’ve re­ally tried to think about all of the de­mo­graph­ics that hap­pen to show up in the At­lanta com­mu­nity and the best ways to serve them is by hav­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion on this coun­cil from all of those sub­sec­tions,” she says. “This helps us think about ways to serve the un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties when think­ing about events and how we can in­te­grate mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ties.”

So the full coun­cil in­cludes 10 em­ploy­ees of the Hawks and Philips Arena and 10 oth­ers from a va­ri­ety of back­grounds—a former NFL player, a sea­son ticket holder, a small busi­ness owner, some­one from a lower so­cioe­co­nomic back­ground, and even an ac­tress and phi­lan­thropist in Keshia Knight Pul­liam (bet­ter known as Rudy from “The Cosby Show”).

Hav­ing the LGBT com­mu­nity rep­re­sented on the coun­cil was im­por­tant to Shaw, who rec­og­nized the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and promi­nence of the com­mu­nity in At­lanta. But there were other rea­sons.

“His­tor­i­cally that has been an un­der­served com­mu­nity by the At­lanta Hawks. I don’t know if it’s been for any par­tic­u­lar rea­son but un­for­tu­nately it has been un­der­served,” she says.

Keith Wente, se­nior di­rec­tor at Philips Arena, was ea­ger to join the coun­cil.

“With be­ing an openly gay man in an area of sports and en­ter­tain­ment which is not typ­i­cally em­brac­ing of my be­ing gay, there have been hur­dles, there have been chal­leng- es about not be­ing able to be who I am and bring my full ca­pac­ity to the ta­ble,” he says. “The abil­ity to make a change within this or­ga­ni­za­tion is hugely per­sonal to me.”

But what of crit­ics who might say the team cre­ated the coun­cil only to drum up ticket sales?

“It’s im­por­tant that it’s not done from an or­ga­ni­za­tional po­si­tion of pro­mo­tion,” Wente says. “That has noth­ing to do with why we are do­ing what we’re do­ing with this coun­cil.”

Heavy pres­ence at Pride pa­rade

“It’s re­ally about in­clu­sion,” Shaw says. “It’s not about point­ing out who’s dif­fer­ent or slap­ping a rain­bow on a T-shirt and say­ing, ‘Okay we rain­bow-washed it so now we’re all in­clu­sive.’ No, it’s re­ally about our ac­tions.”

The first ac­tion was hav­ing a heavy pres­ence in this year’s At­lanta Pride pa­rade, so mas­cot Harry The Hawk, the Hawks cheer­lead­ers and sev­eral mem­bers of the coun­cil took part, hand­ing out 500 spe­cial edi­tion Pride T-shirts in the process. Re­cent vis­i­tors to the in­ter­sec­tion of 10th Street and Pied­mont Av­enue might have no­ticed an At­lanta Hawks bill­board adorned in rain­bow col­ors for Pride as well.

Shaw says the coun­cil, which meets quar­terly as a full coun­cil while the in­ter­nal em­ploy­ees on the coun­cil meet monthly, is look­ing at other LGBT ini­tia­tives to en­act through­out the sea­son, which tipped off on Oct. 27.

Harry The Hawk, Hawks cheer­lead­ers and sev­eral mem­bers of the Hawks’ Di­ver­sity & In­clu­sion Com­mit­tee marched in this year’s At­lanta Pride pa­rade. (Cour­tesy photo)

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