Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Atlanta Hawks Owner wanted to be more Inclusive not Racist

Recently, majority owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Bruce Levenson, has felt pressured to sell his team because of an email he sent out to general manager, Danny Ferry, two years ago, which has now become public knowledge and alleges that he was making racist comments.  The truth was that Levenson wanted to attract higher income and white families to a sport venue predominantly attended by black fans.
This email would not have seen the light of day had Ferry not made these comments about forward Luol Deng of the Miami Heat, when he was a free agent this past summer: "He [Deng] is still a young guy overall.  He is 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.  But he's a guy who would have a nice store out front, but sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back."  This is a description of a player who is well-respected in the league and in April was presented with J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award for his off-court charity work.
The offensive quote came from a background report, meaning a scout's report, which instead of editing it, Ferry said it out loud during a telephone meeting.  It turns out the scouting report came from a different team.  When minority owner Michael Gearon heard it, he requested to Levenson that Ferry be fired.  One of the Hawks' stakeholders called for an internal investigation.  A private Atlanta law firm performed the investigation.  During the review of over 24,000 documents, Levenson's two year old, questionable email resurfaced.

In the Levenson's email, there was the following passage:

 "I think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority" and "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 [tickets] demo. I have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some timeout contest is black. I have even [complained] that the kiss cam is too black."

Levenson is basically telling his staff to find ways to draw more Caucasian customers.  He feels white people are uncomfortable mingling at the bar or at the arena where they're in the minority.  He advises his staff to play music that white people can identify, to hire white cheerleaders, and to have the stadium cams show there are other people besides African Americans that attend the games.  It is a sad state when the team has the second longest playoff streak at seven years, but finished 28th in attendance last season. As a businessman, Levenson wanted reform to bring out more revenue by being more inclusive of diverse customers.  It just so happens there's this witch hunt on white people because of Donald Sterling and the Ferguson case and he's being bunched in with them when he's not willfully racist at all.
In 2016, the Atlanta Braves will be moving from downtown Atlanta to the suburbs of Cobb County, Georgia.  It's called "white flight", a migration of people from a previous place that no longer meets their standards of safety and decency.  Cobb County is 65% white and has a poverty level of 12%, whereas Atlanta is 54% black with poverty level of 24%.  If more businesses relocate from Atlanta, the city deteriorates.
Levenson's email brings up the fact that Atlanta itself is a divided city.  White and black people feel unease around each other.  Levenson should be applauded for trying to be more inclusive and to keep the team in Atlanta instead of being forced to sell his team to a new ownership who might not be comfortable having a business in a black dominant neighborhood.

Robert Lin loves basketball and anime.  Follow him on Twitter and/or Google+.

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