Today came the news that former Atlanta Thrashers co-owner and soon-to-be-ex-Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson jotted down some stream-of-consciousness garbage in which he perpetuates and caters to both black and white stereotypes (and Southern ones, too, for good measure) and emailed it to his co-owners. You can read the text of that email here.
Devising a marketing strategy by drawing lines between and around the type of people one wants to market toward isn’t a bad thing. I just did that last week at my job. It’s called segmenting. Done properly it can help a business reach a target audience.
But it’s the way Levenson paints large groups of people with a broad stereotypical brush that hurts my heart: his implication that a majority-black crowd inherently has fewer “fathers and sons;” that “southern whites” were not comfortable being in the minority; and most harsh: “the black crowd scared away the whites.”
And so I wonder: when the Atlanta Spirit Group drafted Evander Kane and signed Dustin Byfuglien, Johnny Oduya, and Anthony Stewart, and brought in Nigel Dawes, Sebastian Owuya and Akim Aliu – all players of African descent and together comprising a full 20% of black hockey players in the NHL in 2010 – did they appreciate these men as the highly skilled elite athletes they truly are? Or did they just see skin color?
In 2010 blogger Harrison Mooney wrote a long, complex post about this issue and ultimately lauded ASG’s efforts to engage a segment of the Atlanta community it had not traditionally tried to connect with. I suppose that’s true. It’s still (or was) a business. And as Mooney points out, Kane was a legit number four pick in the 2009 draft, while Byfuglien and Oduya were part of a Chicago Blackhawks team that had just won the Stanley Cup.
But as was borne true again and again with the Thrashers, having two or three skilled players surrounded by muckers and grinders does not a winning team make. We had Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa and still only won the lame Southeast Division once. Atlanta Spirit prioritized marketing over building a winning hockey organization, and as a result my team is in Winnipeg.
Ultimately, though, business decisions are less important than who you are as a person. If this were not the case Levenson wouldn’t be selling; Donald Sterling would still own the Clippers. Bruce Levenson looked out at his all-white Thrashers and wanted them to be more black. Then he scanned his too-black Atlanta Hawks crowd and told his staff to make them more white. This is a man who does not value people as anything but a wallet – and the whiter the wallet, the better, because to him whiter wallets contain more green. That might make him a great businessman, but it makes him a lousy human being.