Shalom Life | September 13, 2014

Jewish Owner of Atlanta Hawks Selling Interest in Team Due to Racist Email

Bruce Levenson, a minority shareholder for the NBA team, is stepping down after he voluntarily reported the email to the league

By: Daniel Koren

Published: September 8th, 2014 in Sports » Local

Wait, didn't this happen already?

Oh, no, sorry. That was Donald Sterling.

Bruce Levenson, a fellow Jewish NBA owner, is selling his controlling interest in the Atlanta Hawks, after revealing a racist and offensive email he penned two years ago in a bid to "bridge Atlanta's racial sports divide."

Levenson, a minority shareholder, voluntarily reported the email to the NBA, which he wrote two years ago to the team's co-owners and general manager Danny Ferry. Throughout the email, Levenson airs his concern that there's been a low attendance to Hawks games, and that they should find a way to bring more "suburban whites" to games.

He added that "southern whites" were uncomfortable at the games.

“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base,” Levenson said in the email, which has since been released by the Hawks.

“Please don’t get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arena 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.”

Levenson also commented that Hawks crowds are 70% black, the cheerleaders are black, and that much hip hop is played, whereas, "at other areas, it is completely different."

Levenson has since stated his regret for the words he chose in the email, realizing that it made the team's white fans more important than the black fans.

“I have said repeatedly that the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism, and I strongly believe that to be true,” Levenson said in a statement, which is now posted on the Hawks' official website. “That is why I voluntarily reported my inappropriate e-mail to the NBA."

He continued. “After much long and difficult contemplation, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the team, the Atlanta community, and the NBA to sell my controlling interest in the Hawks franchise.”

The CEO of the Hawks' ownership group, Steve Koonin, will now oversee all of the team's operations, reports the Associated Press.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the NBA was still investigating “regarding the circumstances of Mr. Levenson’s comments” and that he supported Levenson's decision to sell his interest in the team.

“As Mr. Levenson acknowledged, the views he expressed are entirely unacceptable and are in stark contrast to the core principles of the National Basketball Association,” Silver said. “He shared with me how truly remorseful he is for using those hurtful words and how apologetic he is to the entire NBA family — fans, players, team employees, business partners and fellow team owners — for having diverted attention away from our game.

“I commend Mr. Levenson for self-reporting to the league office, for being fully cooperative with the league and its independent investigator, and for putting the best interests of the Hawks, the Atlanta community, and the NBA first.”

“This was just racist garbage,” Levenson said of his email. “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.”

“If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be,” Levenson said in Sunday’s statement. “I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense. We all may have subtle biases and preconceptions when it comes to race, but my role as a leader is to challenge them, not to validate or accommodate those who might hold them.”

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