By now y’all know what soon-to-be Atlanta Hawks majority owner Bruce Levenson said in an ill-fated email concerning the financial state of his team.
When I first heard about this, I had a wide range of emotions. At first blush I was angry, upset that another rich white dude insulted black folks yet again a la former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Then I heard some commentary from some black members of the sports media, including Bomani Jones and Stephen A. Smith. I also read commentary from the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
So I quickly re-read – and re-read again – Levenson’s email. I have come to the following conclusion: while what Levenson said was ignorant and frankly stupid, I do not think he was being racist. In fact, I would go a step further and say it was more about increasing the bottom line for the Hawks.
In other words, it was more about business.
Let’s take a closer look at the email itself. I will point out where Levenson was trying to look at the business side of things while tripping over himself with ignorant and ill-founded comments. Then y’all will realize that he did not have the same racist garbage as Sterling.
So without further ado…
“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.
Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.”
Now if Levenson would have left it there and perhaps tried to offer an intelligent dialog as to how to attract more of that particular demographic, which is factual by the way, then it would have been seen as a legit way to improve business. A bit uncomfortable mind you, but we all know that business is cold and cutthroat. You do what you gotta do to increase that bottom line.
Unfortunately, Levenson decided to go further…
“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.”
So basically Levenson believes that all southern white are scared to death of black folks. I’m not going to speak for all southern whites, but many of the white dudes I grew up with in Winston-Salem, NC would vehemently disagree with that.
At any rate, here’s more…
“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.”
That would have been okay (I guess), however it was followed by…
“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.”
The kiss cam is “too black”? Really???
“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).”
Atlanta is a city with one of the most affluent black populations in the country. And the reason why I think Atlanta Thrasher merchandise, who are ironically now the Winnipeg Jets, may have done better than the Hawks is because Atlanta is a transient city. There are more fans of the Knicks, Lakers, Heat, and now Cavaliers in Atlanta than Hawks fans. And again, the Thrashers are now chilling (pun intended) in Winnipeg.
And the money shot…
“We manufacture a lot of noise but because of the late arriving crowd and the fact that a lot of blacks dont seem to go as crazy cheering (another one of my theories) as whites, it is not great.”
I love how he has his “theories” on how racial groups behave and interact. Hell I know a lot of white folks who are late to EVERYTHING.
Like I said earlier, Levenson’s words were very ignorant and stupid, but they were not racist at all.
Let us remember what the term “racist” means. Webster defines it as “a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another”. Levenson was not going the racist route in this email. Case in point…
“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.”
Doesn’t sound racist to me. In fact, he was attempting to call out such hateful statements on those infamous message boards/chat rooms.
I will say this – if Sterling didn’t show his ass earlier this year, there wouldn’t have been a huge stink over this. If anything, there would have been a press conference called where Levenson would have apologized as he did today, and life would have gone on.
Not now, not in this climate. After Sterling’s comments the NBA is in “ultimate sensitive” mode right now, and Levenson has paid the price.
The ironic thing is Levenson was one of the strongest critics among owners of Sterling. Go figure right?