Just now I'm having a little trouble separating Ray Rice, the Baltimore Raven who knocked his fiancee out cold in an elevator, from Bruce Levenson, principal owner of the Atlanta Hawks, who wrote an intraoffice e-mail fretting about slumping attendance.
On Saturday Levenson called his 2012 e-mail "inflammatory nonsense" and announced he intended to sell the team. Taking Levenson at his word that a scurrilous document had surfaced, the next day columnist William Rhoden of the New York Times got huffy about it. He ranked Levenson with Donald Sterling, the buffoonish former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who'd lectured his girlfriend not to act so friendly with Magic Johnson because Sterling's pals didn't like it.
Rhoden wrote: "In light of this second embarrassing disclosure, N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver should conduct an investigation to find out how many other Donald Sterlings and Bruce Levensons are among the league's owners and top executives. Who are the racists, the sexists, the homophobes?"
Levenson's e-mail to team execs addressed the issue of a troublingly small season-ticket base, which he'd been told was due to a failure to "get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs."
He went on:
My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don't know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.
I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don't care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that's our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.
In another era, NBA owners who thought it time to introduce some black cheerleaders and music a 40-year-old black fan might enjoy were generally regarded as progressive. But Rhoden did not spot anything analogous in Levenson's dilemma. He raged:
In a delusional environment some define as postracial, latter-day night riders ride by day. They might wear business suits, support great charities and advocate worthy causes. Yet they might also maintain staffs with few or no black employees. They can hide behind the veil of diversity to circumvent hiring blacks or putting blacks in positions of power and authority.
Some might own teams that will not hire major black contractors to do lucrative construction projects. Some might be the heads of large universities that will not invest with black-owned investment firms, even as their schools field football and basketball teams that thrive with a largely black presence. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of Levenson's comments is that they reflect a deep-seated bias toward blacks that has nothing to do with content of character, but rather their existence and proximity to whites.
It isn't clear whether Rhoden is fingering Levenson as one of those modern-day night riders, and it isn't clear whether he thinks Levenson personally has a deep-seated bias toward blacks or simply can't forgive him for addressing the bias of white Atlantans as a business problem. What is clear is Rhoden's indignation, in the finest tradition of veteran sports observers who don't like the looks of something.
Levenson wasn't catching it from only one direction. (From the TMZ website, this headline: "Atlanta Hawks Owner Bruce Levenson—I Pulled a Donald Sterling ... Outs Himself for Super Racist Email.") I think the only thing that saved Levenson from a tsunami of indignation was Monday's sighting of a new Ray Rice video, which sent the posse galloping off in another direction. (Also, it didn't hurt that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote that he didn't see what the problem was.)
TMZ posted the Ray Rice video, which was taken by a security camera inside the Atlantic City elevator where last February Rice walloped his fiancee, Janay Palmer. The Ravens then kicked him off the team and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who'd originally suspended Rice for two games, suspended him indefinitely. Everyone weighed in.
David Haugh spoke out on the front page of Tuesday's Tribune: "In locker rooms and living rooms across the country, people expressed understandable outrage. . . . But for a second, forget about whether Rice will play in the NFL again this season. Why isn't he in prison?"
The Sun-Times's Rick Telander might be less adept at indignation than at the cleaner emotions of anger and disgust. He wrote that Goodell either hadn't seen the elevator video earlier (what Goodell claims), in which case he's "incompetent," or he did see it, in which case "he's lying." Telander wondered, "Goodell made $44 million last year. Why should we believe him about anything?"
And in the Times, Rhoden's colleague Juliet Macur said Goodell didn't need to see the video. "When a man or a woman pushes a spouse down a flight of stairs or takes a frying pan to a lover's head, do we really need to see video evidence to realize that the act was wrong and cruel, or to adequately punish the offender?"
My head spinning from a shot of Rhoden's rotgut indignation chased by a tumbler of the primo stuff, I wondered where my next fix was coming from. I'm counting on the NCAA. On Monday afternoon it lifted sanctions on the Penn State football program two years ahead of schedule. Penn State had been cleaning up its act after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and the NCAA gave it a reward. Penn State's message to the world: We have no intention of enabling the next football coach who decides to sexually abuse underage boys for 15 years or more. The NCAA's message to Penn State: Here's your treat.
"I'm uninterested in a moral debate over whether this was the right thing to do, because I'm unsure myself," wrote SB Nation's Kevin Trahan, naming an excellent reason to be interested. And in a similar vein, Steve Greenberg wrote in the Sun-Times, "I'm not outraged by the NCAA's softening of its stance on Penn State. I'm not happy about it, either. Nor am I surprised."
Rarely does a sportswriter concede that he doesn't know how he feels. It's so easy just to feel indignant and call it a day.