NBA Owner Bruce Levenson Race-Baits Himself: What’s Going On Here?

Self-flaggelation, the new NBA craze...

Self-flaggelation, the new NBA craze…

You don’t see this every day.

In a cynical, bizarre, and almost certainly dishonest act that will degrade public understanding of racism while pushing the NBA closer to certified madness and the Unites States toward speech and thought censorship, the controlling owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Bruce Levenson, announced that he is selling in interest in the ABA club because—pay close attention now—he sent an internal memo two years ago that was “racially insensitive.”

Wow. I’m all in favor of self-reporting, but this is ridiculous.

If American journalism and punditry was not race-addled and competent at its job, headlines around the news media this morning would be  “NBA Owner Exploits Donald Sterling Controversy To Get Top Dollar For His Team” or something similar. Instead, we are reading headlines like NBA owner to sell team after racist email (USA Today), Atlanta Hawks Owner To Sell Team After Racist E-mail About How to Increase White Fans (New York Post), while the left-leaning websites are salivating all over  themselves with leads like Bruce Levenson will sell Atlanta Hawks after releasing racist e-mail (ThinkProgress) and Atlanta Hawks Owner To Sell Team After Discovery Of Racist Email (Slate).

Allow me to clarify this at the start: there is nothing “racist” about the e-mail Levenson “self-reported”to the NBA,  at least, nothing racist regarding African-Americans, and last I checked, racist comments about one’s own race when one is white is regarded as a badge of honor in Progressive World. This verdict isn’t debatable, in my opinion, at least not in good faith.

Here is what the relevant section said, in a long e-mail regarding the promotion, marketing and attendance development of his team focusing on everything from the demeanor of ushers to what the concession stands sell; I have marked the significant sections with letters in red.

4. 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. A

Before we bought the hawks and for those couple years immediately after in an effort to make the arena look full (at the NBA’s urging) thousands and thousands of tickets were being giving away, predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience. B

My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites C and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base. D Please don’t 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. E

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. F

Gradually things have changed. My unscientific guess is that our crowd is 40 pct black now, still four to five times all other teams. And my further guess is that 40 pct still feels like 70 pet to some whites at our games. Our bars are still overwhelmingly black. G

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.

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). H

Analysis: The e-mail (to Hawks President Danny Ferry, Levenson’s employee) is a frank, if informal, examination of legitimate demographics and audience composition that is no different from what every competent entertainment business must engage in  and does engage in on a regular basis, and does not cross any lines of propriety whatsoever. In the statement condemning his own e-mail, Levenson said,

“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.”

Levenson is deluded, brainwashed or lying. The e-mail is completely appropriate. I have written very similar e-mails about the problematic demographics of my theater company, except that in our case, the audience and  subscriber base is overwhelmingly white, old and relatively well-educated and affluent. Our mission is to reach the whole community. Do black and Hispanic members of the community feel comfortable in our theater? Do we have sufficient numbers of black performers and artists, ushers and staff members? Are our plays only about white characters and white communities?

Would such a memo, if released to the public, offend some of our white, senior patrons? I’m sure it would: too bad. Is the standard for public discourse now being insisted upon by the speech and thought censors of the NBA and elsewhere that if anything in the content or phrasing of a private conversation or communication with a specific individual on a specific topic might reasonably (or unreasonably?) offend any human being on the face of the earth if that communication was leaked to them, then the source of that communication must be punished and shunned? Such a standard is not only censorious and unreasonable, it is impossible, and would make operating any sales and promotion oriented business a futile endeavor.

Let me examine each of the allegedly “racist” statements in the e-mail and assess if they objectively  justify the abuse Levenson has heaped on himself.

A. These are observations. Observations are either factual, or one’s subjective assessment of what facts are; they are not racist, unless one believes that stating uncomfortable facts are racist. I know some race-baiters and perpetual race-grievance bullies do believe that, or at least act that way. They are, obviously, wrong.

Verdict: Not racist.

B. Another fact, and a 1 + 1+ 2 observation: we give away a lot of tickets in the black community, so we have a lot of blacks at our games. Is simply mentioning the racial composition of a crowd racist now? Apparently Levenson thinks so, or is pretending to think so.

Verdict: Not racist.

C. Is Levenson’s theory about white fans being “scared away” by a black crowd racist? If it’s racist, its racist regarding whites. This is Atlanta, Georgia, and we have been studying white flight in urban areas for decades. “White flight” means “blacks scare away whites.” Levenson believes something similar is affecting the racial composition of Hawks crowds. How can stating this theory be racist? It can’t be.

Verdict: Not racist.

D. It is not racist to make reasonable conclusions about the affluence of the African-American population in Atlanta. Unemployment of blacks is over 11%, about twice that of whites. Whites have a higher household income, and more disposable assets. NBA tickets are not cheap.

Verdict: Not racist.

E. This section condemns views that the author deems racially biased.

Verdict: Not racist.

F. I believe what Levenson is talking about here is known as “diversity.” Diversity is supposed to be a good thing. If he was writing about wanting to attract more black patrons and complained that the arena was playing Lawrence Welk and Montovani music and only had blonde, blue-eyed cheerleaders, would that be racially insensitive? No.

Verdict: Not racist.

G. Another set of legitimate, non-racist observations appropriate to the subject matter and intent of the memo.

Verdict: Not racist.

H. Again, this is a reasonable analysis, based on data and observations.

Verdict: Not racist.

CONCLUSION: There is nothing racist, offensive or insensitive about the e-mail.

And yet, I just heard the two designated African-American race-baiters and professional political correctness scolds designated by CNN to provide one—one ridiculous and unjustified, as I just demonstrated—view of this strange incident, pronounce Levenson’s e-mail as “disgusting” and “more proof of the racism” in the NBA and America. Kate Balduan, the white CNN anchor, kept raising her eye-brow and signaled to the audience that she didn’t get it at all, but she lacked the guts to ask, as she should have, “What in the name of all that is holy are you talking about? There is nothing racist in this e-mail!”

One of the scolds, a lawyer-radio talk show host named Mo Ivory, actually argued that the NBA should suspend, and fine Levenson 2 million dollars for his e-mail, since it fined Donald Sterling for his “disgusting” remarks—made in his own bedroom.

What is going on here?

  • In the case of the journalists who are rushing to call an e-mail racist that contains no racist content, what is going on is rank incompetence and irresponsible reporting.
  • In the case of the NBA, this is the predictable result of the Donald Sterling Ethics Train Wreck. The league allowed a slimy paid escort with an agenda to betray her client and embarrass the league, while it  abandoned any respect for privacy and freedom of expression so their players could grandstand on imaginary racial grievances, and pose as multi-millionaire victims. Once the NBA sent the message that an ambiguous statement made to one individual in an owner’s bedroom justifies a forced sale of his team, a $2,000,000 fine and national abuse, all fairness, proportion and rationality in matters of race have been jettisoned forever. The NBA’s absurd characterization of Levison’s—again, completely innocuous and factual—e-mail as “entirely unacceptable and are in stark contrast to the core principles of the National Basketball Association” is a logical extension, as outrageous as it is. What is unacceptable in that e-mail, since most of it, in other contexts, has been said by African American scholars and pundits? The core principle of the NBA is making as much money as possible, and there was nothing in the e-mail that contrasted with that.
  • In the case of Levenson himself...I’m not sure. He may have gone insane with white guilt, but I think the more likely, if cynical explanation is that he wanted to sell his share of the team, and figured that by appearing to fall on his sword as a mea culpa for violating the edicts of the new thought police, he could glean some positive publicity from the media. That sure seems like a ridiculous plan to me, but it makes as much sense as anything else about this episode.
  • In the case of the culture, I think this is ominous and potentially very harmful. Racism has to mean something specific: it once meant hate and bias directed against people because of the color of their skin. The political race-activists are peddling a new definition which includes criticizing any black individual for any reason, noting actual differences between the races, trying to talk frankly about black community pathologies, making any reasonable law that has a disproportionate impact on blacks,  and now, based on the assessment of a blunt, factual, business memo as ‘racist,” the word applies to any effort to address diversity issues that does not involve affirmative action or attracting minorities.

Addendum: Thank you, Kareem!

I finished this post really wondering if I was losing my mind. Racist e-mail, racist e-mail—everywhere I looked on the web and on cable, Levinson’s ploy seemed to be fooling everyone…or maybe its me. Maybe I am so racist that a vicious, mean-spirited screed just looks like a business memo! Then I read the analysis (in TIME) by former NBA star and beloved “Airplane!” performer Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a brave, smart and observant man: Whew!

Well, the pitchforks are already sharpened and the torches lit anyway, so rather than let them go to waste why not drag another so-called racist before the Court of Public Opinion and see how much ratings-grabbing, head-shaking, race-shaming we can squeeze out of it. After all, the media got so much gleeful, hand-wringing mileage out of Don Sterling and Michael Brown. The only problem is that Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson is no Donald Sterling. Nor is his email racist. In fact, his worst crime is misguided white guilt.

I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats.



Sources: Time, USA Today

14 thoughts on “NBA Owner Bruce Levenson Race-Baits Himself: What’s Going On Here?

  1. I couldn’t believe anyone could think the email raciest either. Stating the facts and how they affect the bottom line. I don’t tell you when I agree with you often enough, Jack, and this one is a zinger.

  2. Many possible comments occur to me at this point, about this subject, but the prevalent has to be a question. Is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the only black man on the planet with a functioning brain? Obviously, I shouldn’t even ask that, since we have the examples of Herman Cain and Ben Carson. I was going to include Colin Powell but…

    • Slight edit: “Is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the only black man—also NBA alum, athlete, pundit, blogger, journalist, broadcaster or non-right wing radio talk show host—on the planet with a functioning brain?”

        • However, Merriam-Webster has decided in the interest of progress to erase “white” from the dictionary and replace it with “bigoted” and erase “black” from the dictionary and replace it with “victimized”. This should settle all controversies satisfactorily from here on out.

          The President occupies the Bigoted House. Students applying for college may select between African American, Hispanic, Hispanic non-bigoted, or Bigoted.

          It should simplify things.

  3. “Um, ME TOO! Look at me! I sent a “racist email”! Will someone buy my team for $2 Billion??? Anyone?”

    Right now, Steve Ballmer is throwing a fit. He could have bought a team for much cheaper AND been able to move it to Seattle.

  4. I think that the day is coming where a lot of people on all levels will have had their fill of this PC racial nonsense and the chains upon us that come with it. Even now, I think that one prominent voice speaking out in utter rejection of this tyranny and all it stands for will start a chain reaction that blows down the racebaiters’ house and that of their white liberal enablers. I’ll welcome that day.

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