Former Atlanta Hawks security manager sues, alleging racist practices

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Kanye West was among the black artists subjected to more thorough security screening than white artists, a lawsuit filed by the Atlanta Hawks' former security manager claims. Photo: Getty Images

A former security manager for the Atlanta Hawks has filed suit against his ex employer and the team’s vice president of customer service and security, alleging that “security measures were enforced, or not enforced, based on race” and that his firing was racially motivated. The team disputes the claims, saying the plaintiff was fired due to poor performance.

Samuel L. Hayes III filed suit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Among the allegations:

“On Aug. 26, 2016, Drake and Future (both of whom are black) performed at Philips Arena. Both Drake and Future asked to bypass metal detectors but their requests were denied. One week later at the AC/DC concert at Philips Arena, Axl Rose and Brian Wilson (both of whom are white) requested to bypass metal detectors. Their requests were granted.”

The suit lists other examples of what Hayes said was a discriminatory practice of subjecting black entertainers to more thorough security measure than white entertainers. Kanye West wasn’t able to bypass the metal detectors ahead of his Sept. 12 2016 concert. Neither were Cedric The Entertainer, Eddie Griffin, and D.L. Hughley before their Sept. 30, 2016 show.

Amy Schumer and her team were allowed to skip the measure when she performed on Oct. 15, 2015, Hayes said. Same for Adele. Katt Williams had to go through the metal detectors when he performed at Philips on Feb. 3, the suit said.

Hayes was fired, a decision he says in court documents “was based on race, including racial stereotypes, myths, assumptions, and preconceived notions of blacks (especially black men) as ‘angry’ and ‘aggressive.’”

The team disputed the allegations.“Samuel Hayes is a former security manager at Philips Arena. He was terminated for poor performance and his claims are baseless,” said Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Nzinga Shaw. “We will defend vigorously.”

It’s not the first time the organization has addressed racially tinged controversy. In 2014, former Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson announced Sunday he would sell his interest in the team following the discovery of an email he had sent two years prior detailing his desire to appeal to white fans.

“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base,” the email read in part. “Please don’t get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arena back then. I never felt uncomfortable, but I think Southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites I would read comments about how dangerous it is around Philips yet in our 9 years, I don’t know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.”

Outrage over the email spurred a flurry of changes within the Hawks organization. By 2015, AJC sports writer Chris Vivlamore reported, the Hawks had new owners, new uniforms and had enacted a number of other personnel moves including the addition of Shaw as Chief Diversity Officer


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