It is indeed baffling to me how a team with one of the largest black home crowds in the National Basketball Association has been implicated in three incidents involving racial bias over the past three years.
The most recent broiling cauldron that the Atlanta Hawks find themselves in involves former Security Operations Manager Samuel Hayes, whose lawsuit claims that the security protocol rolled out for black entertainers visiting Philips Arena were different than those set forth for entertainers of other races.
In 2014, former Hawks owner Bruce Levinson thought there were too many black people at home games. Former GM Danny Ferry also had something racially incendiary to say about current LA Lakers small forward Loul Deng.
According to Hayes, the difference lay in the enforcement of certain rules and was heavy-handed in its bias towards black folk.
The lawsuit also names another defendant, a current employee of the Hawks, and states that Hayes was fired because of his race. Of course, the Atlanta Hawks legal representation has put the clamps on that assertion.
Hawks Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Nzinga Shaw stated via email: Samuel Hayes is a former security manager at Philips Arena. He was terminated for poor performance and his claims are baseless. We will defend vigorously.
The other individual in the suit is Jason Parker, who was Hayes’ supervisor.
Hayes claims that he noticed the discrepancy in treatment a week after he started when rappers Drake and Future requested to bypass metal detectors but were denied. However, according to the lawsuit, AC/DC performed at the arena the following week and both Axl Rose and Brian Wilson requested to bypass the metal detectors. Their requests were approved.
Additionally, Hayes claims both Wilson and Rose requested their vehicles be left in the loading area, which is in direct opposition to security protocol. Those requests were also approved.
Hayes, who supervised a team of 40, states in the lawsuit that several of his staff complained to him about the biased manner in which security requests appeared to be handled.
It also claims that Parker demanded extra security for black shows while continuing to deny black guests similar privileges as their white counterparts. The suit claims similar acts of bias were committed against Sean “Diddy” Combs while there on his Bad Boy Reunion Tour and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Read as well.
The suit goes on to list instance after instance in which black celebrity guests were denied privileges that were regularly granted to white celebrities.
Hip hop acts draw a different crowd, and the white acts bring in more money, Parker told Hayes, according to the lawsuit.
It is impossible to say whether there’s merit to Hayes claims without having witnessed the circumstances ourselves. However, if the election of Donald J. Trump has taught me anything, racism in America can happen at anyplace and at anytime, including in an arena for a team that is in a league that’s around 80 percent black.
Racism isn’t about someone calling you a bad name. It’s about power and consciously wielding that power to suit one’s own biases. It appears as if Mr. Parker at least had the power to do what Hayes alleges he did. For now, it’s up to the courts to decide.