Atlanta Hawks owner set to sell franchise after racially insensitive email goes public

Just months after the Donald Sterling fiasco, the NBA has once again been hit with another controversy surrounding an owner making controversial remarks regarding to race. This time though, that owner will not try to justify his actions, and he is being proactive by putting his share in the team up for sale without a fight or litigation.

Two years ago, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson sent out an email to other Hawks co-owners and the general manager of the team about a theory he had in regards to the population of the fans that attend Hawks games. In the email, Levenson hypothesized that the reason in which White fans weren’t showing up to games in the same numbers as in other arenas was because the largely Black fan base of the team was scaring away the White fans. He cited different aspects of the arena such as the kiss cam, the bars and the audience in general as being overwhelmingly Black.

Levenson continued the email by speaking on the cheerleading squad (which is mostly Black as well) and the Hip Hop atmosphere during games. All of these things led to the conclusion that Levenson had about why White fans of the team were not coming to the games in higher numbers. Levenson, at the time, wanted to attract the White male demographic between the ages of 35-55 so that they could buy season tickets. Levenson was trying to figure out how to increase the amount of season ticket owners for the team, which was and still is at the bottom half of the league.

The full transcript of the email can be read here.

On Saturday, Levenson alerted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that he would be selling his stake in the team. His controversial email was released to the public on Sunday, and he came out with a statement apologizing for his remarks, which can be read here.

Instead of going through the motions like Donald Sterling did and try to fight the system to keep his team, Levenson will part ways with the team that he has been a part of since 2004. In his statement released on Sunday, Levenson said that he made a mistake by generalizing an entire race, and that fans have the right to not only be mad at him for his words, but that they should be mad. The league will now begin working on completing the sale of the team as soon as possible. Being that Levenson is being cooperative in the process, it shouldn’t take as long as it did in the Donald Sterling situation.

The Hawks are in a state of peril as of right now in their front office, as general manager Danny Ferry is in his own cloud of controversy. During the summer, while the Hawks were trying to sign free agent Luol Deng, Ferry reportedly said that Deng “still had some African in him,” while on a conference call with members of the Hawks brass. Ferry said that Deng having some African in him wasn’t a bad thing, but the comments still caught at least one of the team owners off guard, which led to an internal investigation headed by that owner. During that investigation, the Levenson email was uncovered.

On the court, the Hawks are expected to be competitive this season after making the playoffs and pushing the top seeded Pacers to seven games in their first round loss in the 2014 playoffs. The Hawks made the playoffs despite being without their best player Al Horford for a majority of the season. Some people are picking the Hawks as a sleeper team in the wide open eastern conference this upcoming season.

While this situation won’t play out in the public spotlight like the Donald Sterling one, it will still be another negative headline surrounding race in a league dominated by minorities.


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