Another year, another scandal regarding racism for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
A little less than 18 months after the franchise lost its previous general manager because of racially charged comments he made about a potential player, the new GM reportedly made a joke at the expense of his wife, who is black.
Deadspin reports that at a meeting with season ticket holders and club members on Dec. 7, Hawks GM Wes Wilcox, who is white, was confronted by angry fans about the team’s record at the time, 10-12.
After fielding several complaints about the Hawks coach, Mike Budenholzer, and how the team’s players were being used, Wilcox attempted to lighten the mood with a joke.
“I know you guys may be angry with me, but I’m used to it because I have a black wife and three mixed kids, so I’m used to people being angry and argumentative,” Wilcox said, according to Deadspin, who interviewed two people present at the meeting.
The joke did not sit well with one particular attendee, Clarenton Crawford, a black man, who told Deadspin that he emailed the franchise’s CEO, Steve Koonin, to complain. In email transcripts provided to Deadspin, Crawford also claimed that Wilcox turned to another white team employee after the joke and “asked if what he said was okay.”
In a statement to Deadspin, the Hawks seemed to confirm that Cox did in fact make the joke.
“At an early December chalk talk, I made a self-deprecating comment at my own expense regarding my family, which is multi-racial,” Cox said. “This joke offended Mr. Crawford and his wife and for that, I apologize.”
Cox’s comments carry particular weight because of the organization that employs him. In 2014, an audio recording of then-Hawks GM Danny Ferry regarding forward Luol Deng was made public. In the recording, Ferry said of Deng, “He's a good guy overall, but he's not perfect. He's got some African in him.”
After the recording was released, Ferry took a 14-month leave of absence before resigning in Oct. 2015, per ESPN. When he resigned, Wilcox took over as the team’s new general manager.
As part of the investigation around the recording, it was also revealed that former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson had sent a racist email in 2012 complaining that the team’s fanbase had too many African-Americans.
“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base,” Levenson wrote. Not long after the email was revealed, Levenson agreed to sell his share of the team, per CBS Sports.
The stereotype of the “angry black woman” that Wilcox referenced in his joke is a common one in popular culture, according to a study published in the research journal “Gender and Society” by Erica Chito Childs, a professor of sociology at Hunter College. According to popular culture, many black women are hostile and overbearing.
Such stereotypes have a significant impact on black women’s behavior and mental health, according to a study from the journal “Social Work in Public Health” by Wendy Ashley, a professor at California State University at Northridge.
Deadspin reports that Crawford eventually met with Koonin, who apologized on Wilcox’s behalf. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks do not consider the matter closed, however, and will have further internal discussions.