Hawks CEO Steve Koonin Denounces "Cowardly" Silence on Police Brutality

Ben Ladner

As protests for racial justice have broken out across America this week, several NBA teams have released official statements supporting equal justice while condemning violence and racism. On Sunday, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin added to the chorus by unequivocally denouncing both the police brutality that has claimed so many American lives and those who don’t speak out against it.

“Silence is cowardly,” Koonin tweeted Sunday afternoon. “Stop hiding behind your badges, stop breaking parents hearts, and stop pretending this isn’t happening. Start….loving each other, start listening to each other, and start celebrating our differences.”

In the tweet, Koonin appears to directly call out police officers who have committed acts of violence against black people, as well as those who have so far ignored the issue. This week’s protests were sparked by the muder of George Floyd, a black man, by a Minneapolis police officer, who is now facing charges for third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Koonin isn’t the only member of the Hawks organization to speak out against racial injustice in America. Two days after Floyd’s death, head coach Lloyd Pierce posted a photo to Instagram with the caption:

“There is an APPROPRIATE FEAR being a black man in America. Feeling safe/protected is NOT an option for me. To think #JusticeforFloyd could easily be #JusticeforLloyd and it’s because we look alike (to those who discredit our existence). We are recycling hashtags and protests to no avail.”

The Hawks have drawn a hard line where they stand on the issue of social and racial justice. The team sent out a memo this week signed by Koonin, Pierce, and owner Tony Ressler that strongly condemned “recent and recurring examples of weaponized racism, police brutality and race-based preferential treatment across the nation.”

Pierce has been a vocal advocate for racial justice throughout his tenure as the Hawks' head coach, most notably by his work with the Georgia Innocence Project to help free wrongfully convicted criminals. Last month, he participated in a panel discussion on COVID-19’s effects on communities of color for the NBA's roundtable series. Pierce encourages his players to be active members of the Atlanta community and, as a black man in America, understands fully both the power of his voice and the weight of the issues on which he speaks.

"My voice as an African American voice, probably the biggest African American voice in our organization as a head coach, if I have the fear, who else has it?" Pierce told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Sarah Spencer on Saturday. "And there are a lot of people who have it, which we understand, so it has to happen. And it has to happen for a lot of reasons.

“At the end of the day, I may not be the Atlanta head coach down the line, or whenever that comes to an end," Pierce said. "But I’ll always be a black man. So, I carry that all the time.”

On Saturday, Boston Celtics wing Jaylen Brown and Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon -- both Atlanta-area natives -- led a peaceful march in the same downtown Atlanta streets Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched in over 50 years ago, and other NBA players have participated in protests across the country.

"[Atlanta] is the cradle of the civil rights movement," Koonin said. "We want to create a better world and a better environment and a better city." 

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