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Bruce Levenson, owner of basketball team the Atlanta Hawks, is losing his NBA team after a racist email he sent two years ago reappeared.
In the email to Hawks’ general manager Danny Ferry, which was written in August 2012 and was only just publicly released, Levenson seemed to blame dwindling ticket sales on his black supporters.
“My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant (sic) season ticket base,” Levenson wrote.
“And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low.”
Levenson goes on to write that while he himself has “never felt uncomfortable” at the games, he believed “southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority”.
On Sunday, Levenson announced he will be selling his controlling interest in the Hawks franchise after alerting the NBA to the email two months ago.
“I have said repeatedly that the NBA should have zero tolerance for racism, and I strongly believe that to be true. That is why I voluntarily reported my inappropriate e-mail to the NBA,” Levenson said in a statement released yesterday. It is not yet clear if there were other motivations behind revealing the email.
“If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too,” Levenson said. “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.”
“I’m truly embarrassed by my words in that e-mail, and I apologise to the members of the Hawks family and all of our fans.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said they are independently investigating the incident, and “have offered our full support to Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who will now oversee all team operations”.
Of course, Levenson is not the first CEO to get into trouble following a less-than-appropriate email.
In July, CEO of the Singapore Science Centre, Lim Tit Meng, was nominated – and later won – an “award” from AWARE for a sexist email he sent in March. Lim since explained his intentions, saying his comments were meant to be “reflective”.
Richard Branson of Virgin also got into trouble with his IT department earlier this year after sending an email containing the word “bollocks”.