The Atlanta Hawks released a statement today announcing that owner Bruce Levenson was stepping away from the NBA team, two years after he sent an email that touched on matters of race in a discussion of game day operations and fan attendance.
Levenson stated that his informal strategy memo to Hawks president Danny Ferry “was inappropriate and offensive,” and apologized to the team family and fans. He characterized his decision to sell his majority stake in the NBA franchise as being in the best interest of the team, the city and the league. His statement along with the complete text of the email were both published on the Atlanta Hawks website today.
In the email, Levenson shared thoughts and posed questions about boosting season ticket sales. Having been told that white males age 35-55 are the primary season ticket subscribers around the league, he speculates that a largely black attendance base and cheerleading squad, coupled with the hip hop and gospel music played at the games, was limiting the team’s appeal with this demographic.
Levenson himself had provided the email to the NBA and an investigation commenced, which is still ongoing. It seems an odd supposition that his furnishing of this document would have been unprompted, so the real question is: why did he do it?
That’s what the real reporting will attempt to answer in the next several days. Did any of the minority-share owners having anything to do with the document’s disclosure, and was Levenson pressured to release it, perhaps to preempt its release by another, hostile party?
At least four people knew of the email at the time of its writing: Bruce Levenson himself; its recipient Danny Ferry; and Todd Foreman and Ed Peskowitz, both of whom were Ccd on the email. It’s also possible of course that IT personnel or anyone with access to the computers or email systems of those four individuals could have seen the message as well. And, naturally, any of them could’ve forwarded the message to anybody.
It’s interesting that Levenson sent the message close to midnight on a Saturday night, from his iPad (as recorded by the time stamp in the email at the top, and the signature block at the bottom). Is it possible he was just tired enough or just uninhibited enough to say things in writing that he might otherwise normally not have?
The other whole angle here is of course the nature of public discussion of race, the intricate (but well defined) protocols that dialogue has developed and the strangely formulaic shape the process has assumed. Part and parcel of that part of the story is how the media has covered this issue, and how they have characterized Levenson’s statements. But that is for another day and another post.