[guest post by Dana]
In the latest adventures of professional sports and racism, Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson felt compelled to sell his shares in the team as a result of a self-professed “racist” email he sent in 2012 regarding the team’s fan base. Levenson stated he believes the league should have a “zero tolerance for racism.”
Levenson admits he sent the email to team execs back in 2012. In the email sent to urging them to get more suburban white fans at games. He then laid out all the problems with the current fan base, listing 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
– the concerts [after games] are either hip hop or gospel
Levenson continued in the email … “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.” He also complained that he’s told team execs, “I want some white cheerleaders … I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.”
It’s interesting to note the varied responses to the same event.
First, a difference of opinion between Atlanta civil rights leaders, who want to meet with Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin to discuss what they see as “pervasive racism” at the ogranization, and a very different take from Atlanta’s mayor:
“The culture of racism undermines what we have built here in Atlanta,” the Rev. Markel Hutchins said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The sentiment that black people belong only on the court sends us back to an era Atlantans fought hard to end.”
But Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed [who is also black] said that, while he was offended by Hawks owner Bruce Levenson’s comments, he thought the poor attendance at the team’s games had more to do with its performance than race.
“We shouldn’t have a conversation centered on race when it’s really focused on winning,” Reed said in a radio interview. “Let’s not make it about race.”
Civil rights leaders in Atlanta said the latest incident emphasized the need for more diverse ownership of NBA franchises across the country.
Hutchins and others said they would seek a meeting with Koonin, who will oversee team operations during the sale process, and push for a full investigation of the front office culture.
Shaking his head at the racist label, NBA star and businessman Kareem Abdul Jabar doesn’t believe that the email is racist:
I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. In the email, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations) the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90% blacks, kiss cams focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.
From left: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Dominique Wilkins Courtesy of Iconomy, LLC
Seems reasonable to ask those questions. If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?
Kareem finds it the natural inquiry of the business person:
Businesspeople should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business. They should even be able to make minor insensitive gaffes if there is no obvious animosity or racist intent. This is a business email that is pretty harmless in terms of insulting anyone — and pretty fascinating in terms of seeing how the business of running a team really works.
No comment yet from Jesse or Al.