Poor Bruce Levenson—the New York Times piles on | Bleader

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Poor Bruce Levenson—the New York Times piles on

Posted By on 09.11.14 at 07:30 AM

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Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson keeps getting what for from the media.
  • David Goldman/AP Photos
  • Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson keeps getting what for from the media.
Wednesday morning I posted a long comment on the Bleader about the indignation currently being lavished by sports pages on Bruce Levenson and the tandem of Ray Rice and Roger Goodell. Sportswriters—though not all—love to kvetch. They love to fret over behavior that in their view is morally amiss. Their view is none too reliable thanks to their steamed-up glasses.

Rice and Goodell deserve more than indignation over the response of the second to the brutality of the first. They deserve anger. Football star Rice inexcusably punched out his fiancee in an elevator and the NFL commissioner inexcusably suspended him for two games. Pundits—come down on that misconduct with both feet!

But what Levenson deserves is coherent thought. As I observed in the earlier post, he didn't get it Monday from the New York Times's William Rhoden, who ripped the principal owner of the Atlanta Hawks for the racism Rhoden perceived in an intraoffice email Levenson wrote in 2012 addressing the reluctance of Atlanta's whites to buy season tickets. Rhoden's critique was ridiculous; but what bothers me and makes me write again is that Wednesday's Times carried a story about Levenson by another sports columnist, Harvey Araton, that is even shoddier. We can give Rhoden the benefit of the doubt: he was outraged and not thinking clearly. But Araton, with two more days to consider the matter, wasn't outraged. He was just on automatic pilot.

He began by calling the NBA a "racial tinderbox," offering no evidence that this agglomeration of black and white athletes from the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, South America, and Europe remotely is. And he said Larry Bird today might not get away with what he said ten years ago, which was that a few more white stars would be good for the white fan base. Today, Araton lamented, "nuance has become anathema in America."

Araton probably told himself he was providing some. He conceded that juggling white and black players and white and black fans is a tricky business proposition that the NBA has managed with considerable success, despite outliers like Donald Sterling (the former LA Clippers owner caught on tape shooting his mouth off and quickly run out of the league).

But he couldn't shake the idea that Levenson is the second coming of Sterling. It's as if he was up on stage with an improv team: Rhoden (and others) had established the premise, which was that Levenson's e-mail is racist, and it wasn't Araton's place to question it. So he didn't. He went with the flow. And he concluded:

"Levenson would have had no problem if he had just written about broadening the Hawks' fan base instead of degrading the part of that base he already had. It is one thing, and not a wrong thing, to make the case for more white fans to show up and fill your arena. It is another thing, a shameful thing, to say or suggest that in the process of expanding the tent, you would prefer that many already inside it just get the heck out."

It is a wonderful feeling to call someone else's conduct shameful. Your own body tingles with virtue. No mere soap can produce an effect that comes anywhere close. I envy Araton his satisfaction. Unfortunately, as often as I read the e-mail, I can't find the place where Levenson degrades his African-American fan base and wishes a lot of those fans would go away. (He does say he wishes they'd cheer louder.) I guess anyone who can't spot that passage must be part of the problem.

The problem I see is journalistic. It's writers more predisposed to lecture miscreants than to make a case that what they did was wrong.

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