The NBA announced on Sunday that Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is selling his interest in the franchise. Levenson is selling his team due to an email he sent to other Hawks owners and team GM Danny Ferry in 2012. The email offered suggestions by Levenson to increase the team’s white male fanbase and presented stereotypical observations about the Hawks’ black fans. Levenson actually reported himself to the league back in July and gave NBA commissioner Adam Silver the email. Silver has been investigating the issue since, and Levenson decided to go ahead and sell his interest in the franchise rather than become a distraction.
To Levenson’s credit, he takes full ownership of the content of his email. He released a statement on Sunday apologizing for his comments and chastising himself for focusing on race when it came to the team’s fans while pushing broad stereotypes and biased opinions. “In trying to address those issues, I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans. If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense. We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them.”
Deadspin got a hold of the full email on Sunday. Below are excerpts from Levenson’s email, courtesy of Deadspin. “4. Regarding game ops, i need to start with some background. for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn’t much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can’t get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following: it’s 70 pct black, the cheerleaders are black, the music is hip hop, at the bars it’s 90 pct black, there are few fathers and sons at the games, we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel. My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean 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. I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black. And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).”
The Rev. Al Sharpton released a statement on Sunday applauding Levenson’s decision to sell the team in light of his comments.“The announcement by Bruce Levenson is welcomed and appropriate by those of us in the civil rights community, that raised the issue of Donald Sterling’s need to be removed, and that other owners must be held accountable.”
Sharpton also called on Silver to continue vetting prospective and current owners of franchised to ensure that issues surrounding race relations with fans and players are properly addressed and resolved.
In the end, Levenson should be commended to a degree for bringing this to the attention of the league and taking the step to sell the team and remove his association with the NBA and Atlanta Hawks. With the issues the league had to deal with surrounding former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling still fresh on everyone’s mind, it is imperative that the NBA make the proper decisions regarding this situation. Thankfully, Levenson realizes the error of his ways and is taking steps to try to make it right. While his words were reprehensible and should be condemned, Levenson knows they were wrong and isn’t trying to make an excuse for them.