— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) September 7, 2014
Hawks owner Bruce Levenson will sell his controlling interest in the team after self-reporting a 2012 email about the team’s need to attract more white season-ticket holders.
Levenson, who has owned the team since 2004, called the email “inflammatory nonsense” and said he’s angry with himself for sending it.
The email, published in full by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, was sent in August 2012 to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry.
Among the observations Levenson made were that the team’s season-ticket base had a far greater percentage of black fans than that of any other team; that all the team’s cheerleaders were black; and that nearly all of the music played at Phillips Arena was hip-hop or gospel.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. GM Danny Ferry’s Comment That Luol Deng ‘Has Some African in Him’ Sparked an Independent Investigation
Several media outlets reported Monday that Ferry said on a July conference call with team owners that Luol Deng, who the Hawks had pursued as a free agent earlier this summer, had “some African in him.”
“He’s a good guy overall,” Ferry said, sources told Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. “He’s a good guy overall. But he’s not perfect. he’s got some African in him. And I don’t say that in a bad way.”
Deng, who was born in the Sudan, went to prep school at prestigious Blair Academy in New Jersey and played at Duke before going pro. Ferry, a former NBA player, also played at Duke. Yahoo! and other outlets reported that at least one owner on the call was put off by the racial undertone of the comment and asked for an independent investigation into how the Hawks dealt with race relations.
The email was uncovered during the investigation, prompting Levenson to report it to the league and, facing pressure from other team owners, sell his controlling interest in the team.
2. Levenson Apologized for the Email & Called it ‘Inflammatory Nonsense’
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 7, 2014
Levenson issued a statement Sunday apologizing for the comments contained in the email, which he called “inflammatory nonsense.”
The statement read, in part:
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.
3. CEO Steve Koonin Will Run the Team
Silver announced that Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who also owns a minority share of the team, will oversee day-to-day operations.
Koonin took over as CEO in April 2014 after serving as president of Turner Entertainment Networks.
Here’s how his Hawks bio describes him:
As president, he oversaw programming, marketing, scheduling, strategy and operations for top-rated networks TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, as well as Peachtree TV. Under his leadership, the networks have won numerous Emmy Awards and Peabody Awards, as well as established ratings records and critical acclaim. He was also instrumental in the programming and media rights acquisition processes around the NBA and NCAA, and helped build strong brand franchises in “Inside the NBA” and “NBA on TNT”.
4. Levenson Is An Active Philanthropist & Runs the ‘I Have a Dream Foundation
FFF: Hawks owner Bruce Levenson reports his own racist comments to league pic.twitter.com/7l3ufTQqAH
— Fans Favorite FAN (@FansFavoriteFan) September 7, 2014
Levenson’s bio on the Hawks website describes him as an active philanthropist who founded a group called the “I Have a Dream Foundation.”
Active in many philanthropic endeavors, Bruce and his wife, Karen, have spearheaded the creation of the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Maryland and the annual Do Good Challenge at the university. He has served as president of the “I Have a Dream Foundation”, and on the boards of Hoop Dreams and the Community Foundation.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Doesn’t Think the Email Was Racist
— SpeedReads (@SpeedReads) September 8, 2014
NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to Levenson’s defense in a TIME magazine column posted Monday.
Abdul-Jabbar writes that, rather than a racist with similar views to disgraced former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Levenson is merely a thoughtful business owner trying to come up with a more diverse customer base.
From the column:
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, the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90 percent blacks, kiss-cams focus on black fans, and timeout contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.
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?