Here’s how to apologize

Bruce Levenson

When Donald Sterling’s racist tirades came to light, he stubbornly held on as long as possible to the L.A. Clippers, having nearly to be forced out. He finally sold the basketball team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer but only after much wrangling and a couple of lawsuits.

At the time, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson said that the NBA should have a zero-tolerance policy toward racism. Then, Levenson did something amazing… He reported his own racism when he revealed the existence of some racially-tinged emails he had sent several years ago. He then decided to sell his stake in the team.

And here’s how he apologized, providing a model of what such apologies should look like:

“In trying to address (Hawks attendance) issues, I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.

“If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too. 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.”