Atlanta Hawks Seeks Buyer after Owner Reveals Racially-charged Email

bradl

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Donald Sterling, Ray Rice, Penn State, and now Bruce Levenson. Sports is taking a pounding today.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/09/08/346862469/hawks-seek-buyer-after-nba-teams-owner-reveals-racially-charged-email

Hawks Seek Buyer After NBA Team's Owner Reveals Racially Charged Email
by Krishnadev Calamur
September 08, 2014 3:36 PM ET

The co-owner and CEO of the Atlanta Hawks says multiple people have reached out to him to buy the NBA franchise following the announcement by controlling owner Bruce Levenson that he would sell his stake in the team because of a racially charged email he sent two years ago.

"I had over seven phone calls directly today from multibillionaires," CEO Steve Koonin, who is now overseeing the team's operations, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview Sunday. "It blew my mind some of the people who wrote me today."

Koonin's comments came after Levenson's stunning announcement on Sunday. Citing what he called an "inappropriate and offensive" email he sent two years ago, Levenson said he was selling his interest in the Hawks "in the best interests of the team, the Atlanta community, and the NBA." Levenson said he voluntarily reported the August 2012 email to the NBA in July.

In a statement, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league had started an independent investigation into Levenson's comment, but Levenson informed him Saturday night, prior to the investigation's completion, that he was selling the team.

"As Mr. Levenson acknowledged, the views he expressed are entirely unacceptable and are in stark contrast to the core principles of the National Basketball Association," Silver said. "He shared with me how truly remorseful he is for using those hurtful words and how apologetic he is to the entire NBA family — fans, players, team employees, business partners and fellow team owners — for having diverted attention away from our game."

This is the second major embarrassment for the NBA involving race and a team's owner in recent months. It comes just after the league forced Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after he made racist remarks. The Clippers were sold last month to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

And, as The New York Times notes, this incident "has made vivid again the outlines of racial division that exist in the N.B.A. — particularly among its owners, who are overwhelmingly white, and its players, a majority of whom are black — even as the league has distinguished itself as a leader among American professional sports in confronting diversity issues. That a racial issue came to the fore in Atlanta, long been seen as a center of black culture, is particularly striking."

What Levenson Said

You can read the full email here, but in his message Levenson noted that "for the first couple of years we owned the team," he noticed that the Hawks' season-ticket base was small. And when he asked why, he was told that the team couldn't get white males between the ages of 35 and 55, and corporations, to buy season tickets. That's when he noticed, he said in the message, that the audience at Hawks games was overwhelmingly black, its cheerleaders were black, the music played was hip-hop, patrons at local bars were mostly black.

And, he added (the typos are his):

"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."
"This is obviously a sensitive topic, but sadly i think it is far and way the number one reason our season ticket base is so low," Levenson said in the email.

In his comments Sunday announcing that he was selling his interest in the Hawks, Levenson said: "I trivialized our fans by making cliched 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."

ESPN notes that Levenson, who has run the Hawks' ownership group since 2004, tried to sell the team in 2011. When that deal with California developer and pizza chain owner Alex Meruelo fell through, Levenson said the Hawks were no longer for sale.
No Ballmer for this one. Unless someone like a Dominique Wilkins steps up, I could see this being one more asset under Turner. But this race and gender relations are not looking good in US sports right about now..

BL.
 

Technarchy

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Sounds like a business man trying to run a business. PC police need not apply.
 

shinji

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What he said really isn't offensive. The guy is trying to sell more season tickets and speculating on why whites aren't buying them.
 

LIVEFRMNYC

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What he said really isn't offensive. The guy is trying to sell more season tickets and speculating on why whites aren't buying them.
Then he is basically justifying whites being racist and the need to cater to them, cause this problem doesn't exist in Bklyn(Nets) or Manhattan(Knicks) in NYC. Blacks scaring away whites, Seriously?
 

shinji

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Then he is basically justifying whites being racist and the need to cater to them, cause this problem doesn't exist in Bklyn(Nets) or Manhattan(Knicks) in NYC. Blacks scaring away whites, Seriously?
He wasn't saying the customers are justified in feeling that way. He's literally calling out their racism:

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.
But the bottom line is he's not selling enough season tickets, and he was told that whites 35-55 are specifically the ones not buying. What else would he think?

It's one thing to have a problem with those fans. It's another thing to blame the guy who points it out in a private email.
 

Technarchy

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Then he is basically justifying whites being racist and the need to cater to them, cause this problem doesn't exist in Bklyn(Nets) or Manhattan(Knicks) in NYC. Blacks scaring away whites, Seriously?
The Garden is in the heart of midtown. Pretty much racially neutral given it's commercial district.

And I can absolutely promise you if Atlantic Avenue looked like it did when I was a kid, you know, when all the ethnic whites ran to NJ, Staten Island and L.I., those Nets tickets would be collecting a lot of dust.

Neo-getrified Brooklyn has brought in a lot of young, educated, white money and pushed what I always knew as ghettos more toward the interior.

Also, he isn't justifying. He calls them out, and assesses the situation pragmatically.
 

Moyank24

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The Garden is in the heart of midtown. Pretty much racially neutral given it's commercial district.

And I can absolutely promise you if Atlantic Avenue looked like it did when I was a kid, you know, when all the ethnic whites ran to NJ, Staten Island and L.I., those Nets tickets would be collecting a lot of dust.

Neo-getrified Brooklyn has brought in a lot of young, educated, white money and pushed what I always knew as ghettos more toward the interior.

Also, he isn't justifying. He calls them out, and assesses the situation pragmatically.
So, no white people go to Yankees games?

161st and River Avenue ain't exactly a mecca for "ethnic whites"....
 

Technarchy

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So, no white people go to Yankees games?

161st and River Avenue ain't exactly a mecca for "ethnic whites"....
Subway is super close and people are migrating on foot in large numbers creating a sense of safety and comfort.

Edit: The black population of the NYC and the Bronx is much lower than Atlanta by percentage.
 

Moyank24

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Subway is super close and people are migrating on foot in large numbers creating a sense of safety and comfort.
Isn't that the same with every sports arena? Everyone "migrates" on foot from the parking lot, subway station, bus stop, etc in large numbers "creating a sense of safety and comfort".

Frankly, the scariest part of Yankees games is standing on the platform with about 5 thousand drunk people waiting for the train after a game.

If the Nets were good, and in Brooklyn 20 years ago, people would have gone, no matter the neighborhood. Just like they go to the Bronx to see the Yanks play.


That said, I think you're confusing the areas that these stadiums are in with the people who are actually ATTENDING the games, which was was the email was about.

As gentrified as Brooklyn may be now, how many hipsters are actually attending Nets games? I think his point was that they cater to a younger, ethnic crowd and not middle aged white businessmen.
 

LIVEFRMNYC

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The Garden is in the heart of midtown. Pretty much racially neutral given it's commercial district.

And I can absolutely promise you if Atlantic Avenue looked like it did when I was a kid, you know, when all the ethnic whites ran to NJ, Staten Island and L.I., those Nets tickets would be collecting a lot of dust.

Neo-getrified Brooklyn has brought in a lot of young, educated, white money and pushed what I always knew as ghettos more toward the interior.

Also, he isn't justifying. He calls them out, and assesses the situation pragmatically.
Explain Yankee stadium then. That's been in the heart of the ghetto for the longest.

There's always been racial tension of sorts in NYC, but never seemed to affect sales of any specific race in my 30 something years.

Why is nobody pressing about Hockey?
 

Technarchy

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Isn't that the same with every sports arena? Everyone "migrates" on foot from the parking lot, subway station, bus stop, etc in large numbers "creating a sense of safety and comfort".
When is the last time you've been to Atlanta? It's no NYC, I promise.

Frankly, the scariest part of Yankees games is standing on the platform with about 5 thousand drunk people waiting for the train after a game.
LOL. I'd say so. That's half the fun.

If the Nets were good, and in Brooklyn 20 years ago, people would have gone, no matter the neighborhood. Just like they go to the Bronx to see the Yanks play.
Debatable. This new found JayZ Nets fame is driving a lot of the following currently.

That said, I think you're confusing the areas that these stadiums are in with the people who are actually ATTENDING the games, which was was the email was about.
The problem is you an LIVEFRMNYC as transposing NYC acumen on the South and Atlanta. Not the same animal. And Atlanta is a hole.

As gentrified as Brooklyn may be now, how many hipsters are actually attending Nets games? I think his point was that they cater to a younger, ethnic crowd and not middle aged white businessmen.
I can't answer that. I don't know.
 

LIVEFRMNYC

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Been all around the world and there is no place like NYC. May as well be comparing Apples to mutilated goats.
Agreed, but it's not about comparisons. My question still stands.

I never lived in Atlanta but visited so many times and lived in multiple cities on the Florida panhandle. I even stayed briefly in Savannah for about 6 months.

I personally think the Hawks just have a lack of interest. Let Lebron play for them and watch how many whites flock to Hawks games without any concern about the atmosphere being too black. The whole blacks scaring white away is ridiculous.

I can apply the same thing to hockey. Whites are not scaring blacks away, blacks in general are just not that interested.
 

ugahairydawgs

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Agreed, but it's not about comparisons. My question still stands.

I never lived in Atlanta but visited so many times and lived in multiple cities on the Florida panhandle. I even stayed briefly in Savannah for about 6 months.

I personally think the Hawks just have a lack of interest. Let Lebron play for them and watch how many whites flock to Hawks games without any concern about the atmosphere being too black. The whole blacks scaring white away is ridiculous.

I can apply the same thing to hockey. Whites are not scaring blacks away, blacks in general are just not that interested.
The Hawks don't draw for two main reasons. The first being that the Hawks, when at their best, are mediocre. Same was true for the Thrashers before they up and moved to Canada. In their best seasons they are middle of the road playoff teams and never have any players that would be considered a "draw". The Falcons have no problem drawing crowds (the Georgia Dome is right next door to Phillips Arena) and that's because they, outside of last year, have been pretty good over the past decade. Same for the Braves. When they are good they draw, when they stink they don't. The second reason the Hawks struggle is because of the growth of Atlanta over the past 15 or so years and that its become a melting pot of sorts for people from all over the country. Those people bring with them allegiances to their previous teams and the Atlanta teams can sometimes play second fiddle in their own town.

As for what the Hawks' owner said......do I think it was some awful racist remark? No. He was trying to find reasons as to why white people, in general, don't go to Hawks games. The reasons they don't are because of what I laid out above. The fact that he tried to come up with some convoluted reason like that as to why white people (or really just people in general if we're being honest) don't go to Hawks games just reinforces the general consensus as to just how inept the Hawks' upper management really is.
 

AustinIllini

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Explain Yankee stadium then. That's been in the heart of the ghetto for the longest.

There's always been racial tension of sorts in NYC, but never seemed to affect sales of any specific race in my 30 something years.

Why is nobody pressing about Hockey?
The Atlanta Hawks lack the fanbase and the notoriety of the New York Yankees. I'm not saying whether or not the guy is right, but there are a ton of factors, and this speculation is not the same as the Clippers situation.
 

MacNut

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Explain Yankee stadium then. That's been in the heart of the ghetto for the longest.

There's always been racial tension of sorts in NYC, but never seemed to affect sales of any specific race in my 30 something years.

Why is nobody pressing about Hockey?
The immediate Yankee Stadium area is a lot safer now then it was 15 years ago. The bars are all packed with fans before the game. And the amount of police and fans in the area makes it a lot safer. That and back in the early 90's nobody went to Yankee games.
 

MacNut

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Huh?? That's not what I recall back then.
Before the Yankees were good, say around 94 they started to get good, you know the year of the stupid strike, (thanks Selig), the stadium was never full. Plus the neighborhood was horrible.