Koonin Wins ADL Award for Voting Rights Advocacy

Koonin Wins ADL Award for Voting Rights Advocacy

The Hawks CEO was recognized by the Anti-Defamation League for establishing the largest voting poll in the history of the US.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

Steve Koonin (center) welcomed Mark Silberman and Dr. Joel Adler during the cocktail hour.
Steve Koonin (center) welcomed Mark Silberman and Dr. Joel Adler during the cocktail hour.

On March 31, the Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast Region honored Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin at an event at City Winery. Koonin accepted the Torch of Liberty Award on behalf of his “efforts beyond basketball, resulting in voting access” for more Americans, modeled in other cities around the U.S.

“Casual to Dazzle” described the dress code and Thursday night vibe, with live performances by Joey Sommerville, Gurufish and Michelle Malone. Rich Warren and Hedy Rubinger served as event co-chairs for the sold-out crowd, while Channel 2’s Jorge Estevez pitched in as the evening’s upbeat Master of Ceremonies.

ADL Southeast Chair-elect Lauren Estrin began by introducing a video on the ADL’s mission to fight antisemitism in schools through the No Place for Hate program. Rubinger introduced a video highlighting the partnership between the ADL, FBI and local law enforcement. Allison Padilla-Goodman, the ADL’s vice president of the Southern Division, elaborated on the rise in hate crimes and how law enforcement can be a crucial partner.

The ADL’s Allison Padilla-Goodman posed with Joel Neuman, Koonin’s former coworker at Coca-Cola.

“Recent stats show record rate increases in antisemitism … over the past five years,” she said. “The more people buy into this, the more faith in democracy is lost … we need to roll up our sleeves and get in it together.”

Andrew Saltzman, who served as host committee chair along with his wife, Amy, delivered a fun “roast” of his buddy Koonin, with whom he had worked at Turner Broadcasting prior to Koonin joining the Hawks. He recalled that Koonin took the new job because he felt he could have more impact on the community, which his profound leadership has indeed done.

“I stood by his side for seven years where he defamed me almost daily,” quipped Saltzman before a final video, about Koonin’s role in turning the State Farm Arena into a polling station, was screened. “Looking back, the execution details during COVID were astounding, before vaccines. Hawks employees wore masks and stood behind shields, and people voted in less than 15 minutes each, and no one got sick,” reported Koonin.

Joel Neuman, who worked with Koonin at Coca-Cola, used his cell phone to make a donation. Over $16,000 in donations were recorded that night, while over $580,000 was raised in total for the event. Neuman recalled the old adage, “You can never do wrong by doing right.” “Steve saw the need and stepped up,” he said.

Koonin received a rousing standing ovation and related how he, along with Hawks co-owners Tony Ressler and Jami Gertz, came up with one million dollars to accommodate three elections with 50,000 voters, making State Farm Arena the largest polling site in U.S. history.

Political reporter Greg Bluestein and his wife, Sheryl, enjoyed the live music.

“Voting leads to change, and we will be back to do it in 2024,” Koonin proclaimed.

“The old saying, ‘imitation is the highest form of flattery,’ certainly rings true, as 71 sports teams followed suit and opened arenas, stadiums, practice facilities and parking lots to enable a wave of democracy to sweep across our nation,” Koonin told the AJT. “Seeing sports empower and enable voting is something I will always cherish.”

As CEO, he oversees all business, financial and strategic operations for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, and represents the owners as the head of the organization. Koonin joined the Hawks after spending 14 years with Turner Entertainment Networks. Prior to that, he helmed the marketing and worldwide advertising operations at The Coca-Cola Company.

A lifelong Atlanta resident, Koonin has been the recipient of numerous accolades, including Sports Business Journal’s Sports Executive of the Year, and has been named to “The 100 Most Influential Atlantans” list by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Atlanta Magazine’s “Most Powerful People Shaping Atlanta,” Entertainment Weekly’s “Smartest People in Television” and TV Guide’s “The Power List.”

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