Tuesday, October 6, 2015

ESPN Refuses to Play Name That Racist

ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Kevin Arnovitz have a lengthy feature story out today about, in part, the controversy over racist remarks that then-Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry uttered in a June 2014 scouting meeting:

Ferry and his staff had also drawn a general personality profile. In referencing Deng, who was born in Sudan and of African ethnicity, Ferry said Deng "has a little African in him," then added, "He's like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back."
The suggestion was that, with regard to how he communicated with the team, Deng may be a little two-faced. Ferry would later say he was reading from a report compiled from a league executive who had worked with Deng in the past. The select few who would know, including Ferry, refuse to reveal who wrote the comment.

But wait a minute.  It wasn't Ferry who drew this "personality profile".   And the epistemology doesn't support that Ferry merely "said" he was reading a report from another league executive.  Multiple published reports have indicated that these remarks came from a scouting report sitting on Ferry's desk.  A copy of the report is here, courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and television station WSB-2.   The offending discussion of Deng begins toward the bottom of the second page.

Note the date of the report/interview: June 6, 2014.  And the opening lines: "When we got him, Chicago had run him into the ground."  This could only be coming from a member of Cleveland Cavalier management; the Cavs acquired Deng from the Bulls for draft picks on January 7, 2014.

[Let's note in passing that Ferry apparently paraphrased the report slightly: the report doesn't exactly say "he has a little African in him," and Ferry referred to "counterfeit stuff out of the back" while the report reads "black market section in the back."  So Ferry was at least a little invested in this take on Deng.]

Back to the point: which Cav executive whose tenure overlapped with Deng's time on the team could have said this?

This isn't hard.  Let's review the Cavs' management roster from the 2013-14 season:

  • "February 06, 2014 12:43 PM ET.  Cleveland Cavaliers announced that GM Chris Grant was fired Thursday morning.  From the Cavs: "I would like to thank Chris Grant for his eight and a half years of service with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the last three and a half as General Manager. Chris always conducted himself with class, integrity and was motivated by what he believed was right for the organization. We wish Chris and his family the best in the years to come," said Dan Gilbert Majority Owner of the Cavaliers."

  • "February 06, 2014 at 3:14 PM.  David Griffin has been elevated to acting general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the release of Chris Grant. The former right-hand man of Grant has been with the Cavaliers since September 2010 – shortly after Grant took over as general manager."

So are we down to four candidates?  But wait a minute!  Towards the end of the report from the anonymous Cav exec, it states that "CHA, PHX, DAL, & LAL all had degrees of interest around the deadline."  So whoever said this was part of the Cavalier organization at the 2014 trading deadline, which means it wasn't Grant, who was no longer employed as of the February 20, 2014 deadline.  It was likely one of Griffin, Redden, or Altman.  [I acknowledge the possibility that a lower-level executive or scout may have provided the blurb on Deng to Ferry.]

Why, then, won't ESPN properly identify the source of the noxious quote, or even mention that the Cavs almost certainly provided it?  Isn't this article's co-author, Brian Windhorst, a longstanding Cavs beat writer with the Akron Beacon-Journal, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and now (since LeBron James returned to Cleveland in July of last year) for ESPN's website?  If anyone can speculate, surely it's him, right?

But that's journalism: offend your key source too much, and you'll be frozen out.  I just wish this article didn't try to be so self-consciously serious when it makes not even a half-hearted gesture at integrity.

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