ESPN’s Whitlock Defends Levenson: Appealing to Whites Isn’t Racist

It's good business.

In an opinion piece Tuesday, ESPN writer Jason Whitlock came to the defense of Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson, who announced this week that he was selling his share of the team due to a racially charged email he sent to board members in 2012. Arguing that Levenson had “far more in common with the writer of this column than disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling,” Whitlock dismissed charges of racism against Levenson and said he was simply acting like a wise businessman by trying to appeal to white customers.

Whitlock said that while "maybe" Levenson had some as of yet uncovered “Sterling-like history of racial discrimination,” he suspects, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, that what has really happened is that the NBA has lost a good man and capable businessman due to misinformed political correctness:

... this is what I believe -- Levenson is a victim of toxic, internal-ownership dysfunction within the Hawks organization. And maybe the NBA is about to lose a good owner and a good man, one who had the courage to speak out publicly for the removal of Sterling, because few people have the courage to objectively and transparently judge his 2012 email.

In his defense of Levenson, Whitlock recounted a very similar conversation he initiated with his radio station a few years ago in which he, a black man, wanted to expand the station’s appeal to white audiences:

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a terrific piece for Time that defended Levenson. I'd like to add my voice. Levenson's email sounded very much like conversations I led with my radio staff in Kansas City years ago when I was trying to make my show more inclusive of white listeners and callers. As the lone black host at two different all-sports stations, black callers and listeners dominated my show. Black advertisers did not. The show was financially supported primarily by white businesses, and the largest demographic for listener growth was white males.

Whitlock goes on to explain that he was trying to do exactly what Levenson was trying to do in 2012: expand his audience and, in so doing, grow his company. This is what a good businessman does. In fact, Whitlock points out, Levenson was actually doing something noble by attempting to keep the Hawks in the city, rather than being forced financially into “white flight” into the suburbs of Cobb County.

The Hawks, Whitlock wrote, is Exhibit A in his argument that “the marriage between hip-hop and sports” has failed:

Atlanta is Exhibit A in my belief that the marriage between hip-hop and sports is a failure. The NBA and Atlanta are supposed to be the ideal marriage -- a wealthy black city with a huge hip-hop legacy. You'd think the Hawks would have an enormous demand for season tickets. They've qualified for the playoffs seven straight years. But all you hear is the team "stinks" and why Atlantans shouldn't support bad ownership.

Levenson's announcement that he is going to sell his team comes just weeks after the finalization of the forced sale of the L.A. Clippers due to the racially charged statements made by former owner Donald Sterling. When the recording of Sterling's comments first circulated, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban warned the NBA that banning members of the league for statements made privately was a "very slippery slope."