NBA Hawks owner to sell team after revelations of racist emails from 2012

The emailstereotyped black fans and made assumptions that white fans were more valuable to the franchise. Owner Bruce Levenson has apologized for it and had apparently talked to NBA commissioner Adam Silver before making the announcement.

Its the right thing to do and I’m glad he’s doing it voluntarily unlike some other people, but of course I don’t want to talk about his mistake, I want to talk about the reaction by some people. There are already legions of idiots decrying the move to sell the team in the comments, whining about some non-existent version of the 1st Amendment that apparently only they are privy to. For those people who are too stupid to realize, they should be happy if they were honest about their supposed free speech objections. Levenson did this voluntarily, he did it sort of low key and after meeting with the commissioner. He’s not fighting any forced sale because nothing is being forced that we know of. If anything, he is a model of how an owner should behave when something damaging like this comes out which has the potential to severely hurt the team and the league.

This only reinforces the notion that pretty much everybody crying about free speech when the Sterling thing came out both did not understand nor do they care about free speech, they only have some weirdo fetish for seeing a racist boss around a bunch of black people. To me, it proves that forcing Sterling out was the right move both morally and legally, and that racists like that have no place in regular society and should be socially hunted down and exposed and harassed to the full extent of the law. Small applause for Levenson for doing the right thing.

I think it also bears mentioning that Levenson was one of the loudest anti Sterling voices in the owner camp. He was very outspoken about handing him “maximum punishment”.

Wow…that email is pretty tame. I’m wondering if another shoe was at risk of dropping.

The text of the email is here, if you’re curious. There’s all kinds of stereotyping. J.A. Adande summed it up pretty well on Twitter: Levenson decries racists but then says he wants to cater to them.

I think you are mixing up a couple of concepts there… but if it’s ok for the AG of the US maybe I’m wrong.

I don’t think the e-mail is racist at all. I think he’s speaking frank and openly about the racial dynamics of Atlanta. Atlanta is about 55% white, 35% black, with a mix of the remaining 10%. But you rarely, if ever, go somewhere and see a crowd that is 55% white and 35% black. There are white areas and black areas. White bars and black bars. Hell, there’s black meetups and white meetups. For example, look at these two meet up groups:

Group 1 and Group 2

Essentially the same. Both are for the young professional crowd looking to do stuff. The first is a bit more partyish and the second a bit more activityish, but they are broadly the same. However, when you look at the photos of the members, you will see that 90%+ of the first group is black and 90%+ of the second group is white.

What he said in his e-mail is sad but true. The NBA depends on corporate types’ money, corporate types are predominantly white, and white people don’t want to go to black places. Of course not every corporate type is like that, but the majority are. It’s not surprising that the owner wants to cater to the people who will make him the most money. He just made the mistake of outlining it in explicitly racist terms instead of couching his plan in code.

I agree the e-mail is just making ACCURATE observations about the difference between his fanbase and the typical season ticket demographic.

You don’t know if anything he says is accurate. And the problem is that he’s saying that even if these white fans are racist, he wants them at his game more than he wants black fans because the racists have more money. Do you see why that would upset people? Here’s a different link to the letter since Yahoo seems to have removed it. This also just looks awful.

Marley: He’s a capitalist! If he believes white people have more disposable income, he should obviously cater to that demographic. His mistake was writing down/saying it out loud.

You mean the white racists have more money than the black racists I think.

I think Levenson’s remorse process was like this…

*Shit, Ballmer paid 4X value for a team historically crappier than mine?!?! How do I get in on this gravy train?

Wait… here’s a 2yo email where I make some disparaging remarks about the African-American fan base. Ka-ching!*

Thank you for a good illustration of why unconstrained capitalism sucks. There are two general options here: the Hawks could continue catering to the black fans who are already coming to Hawks games while also bringing in more white fans to increase their attendance and their revenue, or they could try to appease white people who are uncomfortable being around black people. Given those choices, Levenson said “Let’s get white fans who don’t want to be near black people. They have more money.” Again, I think it’s easy to see why people would object to this. You can work to bring in other groups of people with more money without actively trying to downplay or neglect the fans you already have.

I have no idea what you’re talking about. There’s no racism on the part of black fans here. Black fans are going to Hawks games, and Levenson theorizes that white fans don’t want to come because there are too many black people.

Marley: would you rather have 7,000 fans spending $100/14,000 fans spending $50 or 7,000 fans spending $50/14,000 fans spending $100?

They can’t fill their arena. They are not in position to choose between groups of fans. The correct answer is that they should be looking for ways to bring in more people and sell more stuff, not replace black fans with white ones. In the email he talks about actively making the fanbase seem less black. If we want to talk about why the Hawks can’t sell enough tickets, by the way, I think this has an awful lot to do with it. They are a mediocre team every year. They don’t contend and their style of play in recent years has been boring. Right now they have a few good players but they’re mostly a collection of potential trade assets. Why should fans beat a path to their doorstep?

Agreed. It’s fine to point to capitalism as an explanation, but it isn’t a justification for disregarding rectitude and fairness. That’s not even mentioning that this move isn’t particularly good business wise.

What? Are they going to stop coming if the Hawks get a white cheerleader or play some country music?

By that logic, why would white people start coming just because they have a white cheerleader and play country music? He’s talking about prioritizing one group of fans over another. He wants to get more white people to buy tickets and says white fans won’t come if there are too many black people in the crowd, so I think it’s pretty obvious what he expects to happen. The implication is that he wants the crowd to be only 10 or 15% black.

No, he wants to sell more tickets–especially more season tickets–to create a solid revenue base. If he could do that with a primarily black crowd, he would be happy.

And he wants to do that by attracting white people who don’t want to be around too many black people. He’s very upfront about this, and he’s willing to go to some real lengths to downplay how many black people are in the crowd, too:

I understand the guy didn’t say he hates black people, and nobody’s saying he did. But he wants to get a whiter crowd to buy tickets and says the number of black fans at the arenas hinders that goal. And the bigger picture is also relevant: he’s the owner of a team in a league that’s (I think) 80% black in a city that is majority-black. And if you look at the broader Atlanta metro area, it sounds like the Hawks fans match the overall population, but he doesn’t feel that’s profitable enough. That’s without getting into any broader economic and racial concerns. I think it’s very easy to understand why people would find this offensive, and I don’t think they’re wrong. He may only want white people there because they have more money, but he’s very upfront about the fact that he wants more white people.

If white people spend more money than black people at the same event why on earth is it racist to say you want more white people to come?

There are cultural differences at play here and it’s asinine when people pretend they aren’t there just because it may sound racist.