Though he said the recent criticism has been hard on him, Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores said Saturday that he is committed to changing after an advocacy group called him out for his role in a prison telecom company.
Gores, ahead of the Pistons’ 128-119 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, spoke out for the first time since a full-page ad called on league owners and NBA commissioner Adam Silver to force Gores to sell his team.
“It hurts,” Gores said, via ESPN. “I’m not gonna tell you that it doesn’t. I have a family, but then I always kind of look at things and say, ‘Life’s happening for a reason and you’re put in that place to make a difference, so maybe that’s a blessing.’ Then I also think about people, especially in the African American community who have gone through a lot more judgment and pain than I have. They might judge me a certain way, and then I say, ‘Get your s--- together, Tom; let’s go fight this fight.’”
Tom Gores called out in full-page ad in New York Times
The New York nonprofit group Worth Rises took out a full page advertisement in The New York Times earlier this month calling out Gores for his prison telecom company.
The group said that Gores’ “active participation in the prison industry” deliberately exploits “Black, Brown and economically distressed communities.” His private equity firm purchased Securus Technologies in 2017, which helps set phone call rates for jailed inmates — which are frequently criticized for being too high.
“Gores owns the predatory prison telecom corporation Securus, which is infamous for charging families egregious rates to connect with loved ones behind bars,” the group said on its website. “His greed has broken up families and traumatized children, who are disproportionately Black and Brown due to racist policing and policies. If Gores cannot meet his responsibility to the public, and Detroiters specifically, the NBA must step in.”
Gores insisted Saturday that he is committed to changing and improving the system both within his own company and the prison system in general — something he said they’ve been working on already.
The company announced in January that it had lowered the average cost of phone calls by 30 percent over the past three years, and would continue doing so. It also pledged to donate $3 million to help reduce recidivism.
“We have been doing. It’s just that not everybody knows and maybe we’ve even under-communicated on it, but we have been really doing a lot of work to reform the industry and even forgetting the company,” Gores said, via ESPN. “And it’s crazy, it’s not that I’m excited about it. I just think this is a unique opportunity for me and for us to impact our country and the world in a bit, because it’s not really about this one company — it’s about an industry that really does need to be changed.
“We’ve recognized it, but we’ve been doing it also, and we can communicate with you guys more and more on this topic. We’ve been doing it. We’re aligning ourselves with really important people, influential people. The one thing about the space in that industry is that we really have to keep partnering with people. We have a very, very productive activist that we’re speaking to. We’re drawing on people from the league. We’re discussing things with the players’ association. So I think we’re doing it, and this is even beyond basketball. Basketball is basketball.”
Worth Rises founder skeptical
While his promises sound good on the surface, Worth Rises founder and executive director Bianca Tylrek is skeptical.
“Don’t expect somebody who’s exploiting struggling families to tell you that they’re gonna keep exploiting struggling families,” Tylek told ESPN. “The bottom line is, Tom is in a tough position at this point because he’s getting a lot of bad public press.”
“The most important point is that we are three years into his ownership of the company and he’s talking about changes now,” she added. “Like, if that was really sincere and he had plans to do all of those things, what has he been doing for three years? And the little that has happened all happened in the last few months, all happened while the business was in a huge boom because of COVID, unfortunately. Right now, prison visits are shut down.”
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