After Ashley Madison: Thoughts on Hawks and Giants

By Jamie TworkowskiSeptember 21, 2015

The Atlanta Hawks are my favorite basketball team, although it was easier to say that a few days ago. Last Friday, the Hawks released an Ashley Madison parody video in which real girls really named Ashley Madison invite you to “have a love affair with the Hawks.” The video was met with mixed reviews, as some found the video funny and others felt it was offensive. The Hawks are in the middle of a rebrand, having recently unveiled new colors and doing their best to appeal to a younger audience.

i saw the video through a unique lens because of a recent conversation with my friend Byron. Byron lives in New Orleans and he told me about a professor there who was exposed in the Ashley Madison leak. This man was also a pastor and also a husband and also a father. Because of the weight and shame of having this secret made public, the man chose to end his life. He died by suicide. My friend Byron knew this man. He saw him the very day he died. Byron went to the funeral.

So, suddenly, for me, the words “Ashley Madison” took on a different meaning. “Ashley Madison” meant a family in mourning, children without their father, and a wife without her husband. On top of that, friends lost a friend and students lost a teacher and a church lost their leader.

i came to learn that this suicide was not the only one, that there were multiple suicides that came in the wake of those email addresses being made public. Hundreds of people lost jobs and it’s safe to say that many marriages have ended and many more are still up in the air.

So again, suddenly “Ashley Madison” was clearly something tragic. It was nothing to joke about, because those two words now hang heavy over hundreds of homes, hundreds of families. If those people are in mourning, we should not be laughing.

For all of the reasons above, i decided to write an open letter to the Atlanta Hawks. My friend Josh Jackson is the editor at Paste Magazine, which also happens to be based in Atlanta. i texted Josh, told him about my idea, and asked if Paste might be willing to publish the letter. He responded right away, “Sure thing.”

i addressed my open letter to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who is credited with much of the Hawks turnaround and who was recently honored for that very thing. i follow Mr. Koonin on Twitter, so when my letter went up online, i made sure to tag him.

That was Friday afternoon. On Saturday afternoon, Coy Wire at CNN called the letter “a paradigm shifter.” Unfortunately, he said that in a message to me on Twitter, not on CNN. He added that he wished he had seen the letter before he filmed a segment on the Hawks campaign. (Translation: Almost.)

It’s now Monday afternoon. The video is still up on the Hawks website and there’s been no reply by Mr. Koonin or the Hawks organization. On a certain level, i feel defeated. i wanted to change the minds of the Hawks leadership. i wanted to see the video taken down. i wanted to see the campaign go away, because i believe the campaign to be a mistake, one that hurts people who are already in a great deal of pain.

But beyond that feeling of defeat, something else stood out. It was a message from a girl who had read the open letter. She said, “My family is one of those personally affected. I’ve been without my father for 29 days. There’s nothing funny about ads like this. I saw it and it hurt a lot. Thanks for making your position on it so public. I wish more people shared your viewpoint.”

Suddenly, it was personal. The idea of Ashley Madison being linked to suicides, it wasn’t hypothetical. It wasn’t just a story i’d been told. Erin lost her Dad. This girl was living a nightmare, the storyline something from a movie, except that it was real. When she reached out, it had been 29 days and now it’s 32.

We traded messages. i told her i was sorry beyond words and she told me how hard the last month has been, how afraid she is to go home. i encouraged her to see a counselor. She asked some questions and i sent her a link to our Find Help page.

i thought about this whole thing over the weekend, about the video and the letter, about Erin’s words and Mr. Koonin’s silence. The following thought came to me last night and it moved me to write. You might call this the moral of the story: i suppose i sort of picked a fight with a giant. There are fears that come with this kind of thing. For one, i might get crushed, but i suppose there’s also the fear i’ll simply be ignored. i’m not sure which is worse.

In this case so far, the giant seems to be ignoring me. i can’t make Steve Koonin or the Atlanta Hawks listen or respond. i can’t make them take down their video or stop their campaign. But this whole thing has taught me that maybe there’s another outcome, perhaps a silver lining. Maybe those words we share with conviction, maybe the giant doesn’t hear them, but maybe someone else does and maybe that someone else feels less alone as a result. Maybe we’re supposed to question giants so that someone else feels less alone with their questions. Maybe we end up speaking on behalf of someone we haven’t even met yet, underdogs united.

Erin sent these words last night: “I don’t feel a lot of kindness lately. It’s just judgement and hurt and wondering what people are thinking. So thank you for being kind. It means more than you know.”

Peace to You.

PS: Can i make a request? When there’s a suicide, let’s put away our judgement. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It’s not the time to place blame. A suicide means a story ends too soon. A suicide means loved ones left with broken hearts. Our judgement won’t help but our love can do a lot.



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Comments (9)

  1. Brian Orbe

    do you think that maybe a private letter rather then an open letter would’ve been more effective? I think about being in Mr. Koonins shoes and even the guys from Ashley Madison who were exposed and how it affected them. Who knows how your open letter might’ve affected Mr. Koonin……. hopefully all gets resolved on a positive note.

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  2. Rhonda Hunter

    Thanks for using your voice Jamie. It matters. I met this past June with three other pastors wives who had all lost their husbands to shame and suicide in the last year. I hate and hurt that there are now more of us. If Erin or her mom want to connect with us (as Ryan Anderson said to me, “our club, that none of us wanted to be part of”) feel free to pass along my information. It was helpful for me to have a few people who understood how I felt, when I was ready.
    Thanks for standing for what’s right.
    So Grateful, Rhonda

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  3. Joshua

    Jamie, thank you for doing what you did. It really shows why a lot of people (myself included) value and rally with you. Thank you for speaking kindness into the world when it’s just so easy to speak negativity. Thank you for your heart to help all of us stay around as long as possible and to have a great story to tell.

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  4. Julia

    Jamie, thank you for using your time and influence to speak for those whose voices might not otherwise be heard. I hope that the criticisms that your article has provoked in some people do not weigh heavily on your mind. Their judgements are the result of ignorance, and those of us who know you or know of you can attest to the real truth. You inspire me every day and this open letter is just another instance in which you have encouraged me to be able to be bold, courageous, and assertive. You are a beautiful example of how to face adversity with grace. I’m sorry that people have treated you unkindly. I hope you remember that there is still light and goodness in people. I hope you remember that you deserve better. Your words can change the world, Jamie. They have certainly changed mine. Thank you for your bravery, for your courage, and for your light. Peace to you.

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  5. Michael Thompson

    Wow, Jamie. So powerful and so true. Having been through the whole public shame thing and knowing how close I came to making a similar choice to Erin’s dad, I can surely say “Amen” to your words here. It is a shame that our culture finds such pleasure in watching the demise of a broken person. The shrapnel that is scattered through public failure and shame penetrates deeply into those closest to the implosion. I guess its much easier to lob emotional grenades from afar. Thank you so much for you courage in this and so many other issues. So very proud of you.
    Mike Thompson

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  6. bellla

    Hi sir
    Firstly, the beautiful intentions of your heart, are seen by many, and most importantly by God. No matter if the giants take on your wisdom or your love, others do. And we appreciate them.
    Secondly, your words remind me of the well known quote that no act of kindness is ever wasted. I hope you can live in your words, and not just believe them. Because so many people hear your words, feel the love in them, cling onto them. Many. Let’s say it again, many. But even if it was no-one else, there’s still one, you. Your kindness is who you are. I know that because it’s who I am. It’s taken me 3 decades but I finally know who I am. It’s not easy, I shake and my voice halters, but inside I have something I’ve never had. Me. I hope you have you too.
    Point of my message, your voice matters. To others, to God, and, to you
    And right, is always worth it, even when it feels like a kick to your tummy, your heart,, or even to you as the soul you are. Doing right, matters. Your letter was doing right.
    Please, if you’re able, keep using ur voice.. So many of your devoted followers, and new comers, value your heart, your mind, you. And if at times you can’t, that’s ok too, you’ve blessed us forever already.
    Proud of you Mr Jamie Tworkowski. And the world twloha team, as always
    God bless
    Ps, please make comment notifications available on the twloha blogs. Pretty please. Think it would help a lot of folk. X

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  7. Pingback: Basketball team runs “Ashley Madison” marketing campaign: genius or crass? | Reputation Refinery

  8. Pingback: Basketball team runs “Ashley Madison” marketing campaign: genius or crass?

  9. Mary Lou

    God bless you Jamie. You have no idea how healing your words words are nor how timely.

    Lost in Canada

    Reply  |  
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