TIME england

How English Soccer Could Take a Page from American Football’s Playbook

Manager Chris Powell during a Huddersfield Town home game on Oct. 21, 2014 in Huddersfield, England.
Manager Chris Powell during a Huddersfield Town home game on Oct. 21, 2014 in Huddersfield, England. Gareth Copley—Getty Images

Advocates look to NFL to address racial disparity in coaching ranks

It’s not often that England’s football clubs look across the Atlantic for answers, but a new report suggests doing just that. Ethnic Minorities and Coaching in Elite-Level Football in England: A Call to Action, launched on Nov. 10, highlights a glaring whiteness in the upper echelons of management at England’s 92 professional football clubs. There are just two black or mixed race managers in English football, Chris Powell at Huddersfield and Keith Curle at Carlisle, and although as many as 30% of players come from minority ethnic backgrounds, only 3.4% of top coaches—13 of the 552 individuals employed running first teams, developing young talent and in other, similarly key roles—are non-white. The report holds up the National Football League’s Rooney Rule as a possible way to redress than imbalance.

The procedure—nothing to do with Manchester United and England player Wayne Rooney, but named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers who helped to formulate the rule and get the NFL to adopt it—requires all NFL teams to interview at least one black or minority ethnic candidate for any head coach and general manager vacancy. In 2003 when the rule came into force, only 6% of NFL head coaches were of black or minority ethnic heritage. Within three years, the proportion had risen to 22%. This has not been the only bonus, says Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), co-publisher of the report. “The research from the U.S. tells us that if you implement the Rooney Rule, which is in essence about putting capable and qualified people in front of the people doing the recruiting, that opens up the system even to capable white coaches who might be excluded.”

English football recruitment lacks transparency. Positions are rarely openly advertised and often work through existing contacts. Jason Roberts, a former elite footballer and founder of the Sports People’s Think Tank, joint publisher of the report with FARE, told the British Sunday newspaper, the Observer, that he believes this system allows racist assumptions to go unchallenged. “It starts when black players are characterized by their athletic ability. You will not hear a black player referred to in the same sentence as the words ‘intelligent’, or ‘technique’. It’s always power and pace. This narrative goes right the way through. We’ve seen it in the past – ‘black players are not good in the cold’, ‘not good at certain positions.’ You can see how the decision-makers look at it and say: ‘Well, he’s just not the type.’”

Other prominent non-white figures in English football have expressed skepticism that a Rooney Rule would work in the English context. The former England striker Les Ferdinand doubted that clubs would open up their interviewing process sufficiently. Carlisle’s Curle fears black candidates might be called in “just to tick a box.” Researchers, who spoke to Rooney and many other key figures in the NFL in compiling the report, did encounter similar worries in the U.S., says Powar, but overall the feedback was positive. “There are always suspicions that some people are being interviewed for the sake of it, that some franchises could do more, but in the end this one mechanism has led to a very clear change of the type we want to see here.”

FARE will be publishing more research later this year that surveys the situation across Europe. France and the Netherlands both do better than the U.K., says Powar, who has already seen some of the data. He argues that this represents “a bigger failure” by the English game because “English football is the wealthiest in the world; we have the biggest TV deals here; we have the most international league; the brands are bigger and they’re more well known across the rest of the world.”

Richard Bates of the anti-racism organization Kick It Out sees another problem in English football’s monotone appearance. There has been significant progress in combating racism on the playing field and in the stands, and in that respect “English football is certainly further ahead than a lot of countries on the Continent”. But, he says, the delay in mirroring the diversity of players and fans in football’s board rooms and back rooms risks undermining those advances. “The more diverse the game becomes off the pitch, the more aware people will become in terms of those who watch the game of the need to be fully inclusive.”

Bates argues that not only the football clubs but the governing bodies in English football, in particular the Football Association (FA), the Premier League and the Football League, need to spearhead the drive for better diversity. If so, these bodies should make a start by looking at themselves. Research undertaken for the report shows that a mere 1% of administrators in English football are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. In October 2013, Heather Rabbatts, simultaneously the only black and only female board member of the FA, made public a letter criticising her own organization after a commission it set up to look at ways of improving the performance of the England team in a spectacular own goal failed to include any black or female members.

England last lifted the World Cup in 1966. Rabbatts pointed out that Andros Townsend, a black player, had just helped England towards qualifying for the 2014 World Cup tournament in Brazil. “It is therefore particularly ironic that a commission to look at the national team has been formed with absolutely no representation from the black and ethnic minority communities, many of whom play such an important role at every level of our game.”

TIME

Mitch McConnell’s Secret Weapon: His Wife

Elaine Chao Mitch McConnell Kentucky
US Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, waves to supporters with his wife Elaine Chao during his victory celebration at the Marriott East Hotel in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 4, 2014. Mark Lyons—EPA

Campaign insiders say Chao was a driving force of his reelection campaign

The weekend before the midterm election, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, campaigned at a restaurant in Montgomery County, east of Lexington. Chao introduced McConnell to the packed house, but after the event was done McConnell sat down to grab a late lunch with a staffer. A woman and her two daughters approached the leader and asked for a photograph. His aide said, “Sure thing, can you just wait until the leader is finished eating?”

“Sure,” replied the women, who then continued to stand, staring at the leader as he ate.

Chao then sat down and she motioned for the woman and her daughters to join her at the other end of the table. And for 10 minutes, Chao engaged the family. “Are you two sisters?” she asked. They shyly nodded.

“I grew up with a lot of sisters, too. There’s nothing better than girl power,” she said, regaling the girls with stories of her five younger sisters and her family, who arrived in the U.S. from Taiwan on a freight ship in 1961, when Chao was eight, fleeing the communist revolution on mainland China. By the end of her stories, the girls were beaming and giggling.

McConnell, 72, was never one for retail campaigning. Childhood polio left him tender and averse to backslapping. To avoid it on the campaign trail, he’ll often grip a person with his left hand on the upper arm, holding them away from him, as he shakes their hand with his right. He’s also hard of hearing, which means in loud rooms he often misses what people say. But on the campaign trail, Chao, 61, makes up for her husband’s shortcomings.

Over the past two years, Chao headlined fifty of her own events and attended hundreds more with and on behalf of McConnell. She also raised “a huge part” of McConnell’s $30 million war chest, says John Ashbrook a spokesman for McConnell. But, perhaps most importantly, she was the campaign hugger.

Dr. Noelle Hunter said she’s formed a “special bond” with Chao over the past year, after McConnell worked to recover Hunter’s eight-year-old daughter, Muna, from Mali, when she was taken there by Hunter’s ex-husband. The political science professor, who was the subject of one of McConnell’s most memorable campaign commercials, was a former Democrat until she met the McConnells at a parade in Paintsville last year in August. “I went to shake her hand and she just grabbed me and held me gave me a mom-type hug,” Hunter said. “She said, ‘We are praying for you to get Muna home.’ She was so warm and gentle. I’d never met her before. I had no idea she even knew about my situation. And it meant the world to me that clearly these two people were talking about Luna over the dinner table.”

Chao is also the one who keeps tabs on various political allies across Kentucky. “She very actively listens. She really pays attention and remembers details about people,” says Kelly Westwood, head of the Kenton County women’s Republican group. “She doesn’t see them for months and then says, ‘I know you sprained your arm, how’s it going?’ Or, ‘How’s you bid for city council going?’ She remembers everything.”

It is perhaps Chao’s personal touch that helped McConnell offset his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes’ attacks on him as anti-women. Chao starred in several ads on McConnell’s behalf talking about his record on women’s issues. In the end, McConnell beat Grimes 56% to 41%. “The biggest asset I have by far is the only Kentucky woman who served in a president’s cabinet, my wife, Elaine Chao,” McConnell said at the annual Fancy Farm GOP political picnic in August.

Soon after that event, Kathy Groob, the founder of a Democratic PAC, Elect Women, mocked Chao’s heritage on Twitter. “She’s not from KY… She is Asian and [President George W.] Bush openly touted that,” Groob said. Groob also referred to Chao as McConnell’s “Chinese wife,” and said McConnell is “wedded to free trade in China.

Groob deleted the tweets and shut down her account. The Kentucky Democratic Party also condemned them.

Perhaps the only thing that really angers McConnell is when Chao is attacked. This has happened before, in 1996, when surrogates for his opponent that year (Democrat Steve Beshear, who is now governor of Kentucky) started saying, “It’s time to elect an All-American family to represent Kentucky.”

“It was a racial slur in my view and it infuriated the Senator,” says Billy Piper, a longtime former McConnell aide, who remains close with the leader. “He is not ever going to take it when she gets attacked.”

Chao is proud of her family’s history. Not only did they struggle against communism in a very personal way, but her father came to the U.S. with nothing and built a multi-million dollar shipping business.

And that legacy of hard work rubbed off on Chao, who wanted to give back to the country that gave her family so much. She graduated from Mount Holyoke and Harvard Business School before becoming a White House fellow in the Reagan Administration. She served as deputy Transportation Secretary under George H. W. Bush and director of the Peace Corps. In the Clinton era, Chao was named the head of the United Way before becoming Secretary of Labor for all eight years under George W. Bush.

McConnell, who married Chao in 1993, often quips: “People remark that I’m in a mixed marriage. I don’t see it that way. In my first marriage, I married a Liberal. Now that was a mixed marriage. With Elaine, she and I understand one another.”

Read next: Go Inside Senator Mitch McConnell’s Winning Campaign

TIME faith

It’s Time for Whites to Accept Responsibility for Racist Systems

Hundreds march on day of disobedience in St. Louis
Clergy members lead hundreds of protestors march from Wellspring Church to the Ferguson police station in an act of civil disobedience on October 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Ferguson must be a moral wake-up call to white parents, not just another warning to black parents

I and many other faith leaders came to Ferguson, Missouri, on Sunday and Monday because of Michael Brown—an 18-year-old black teenager who, though unarmed, was shot and killed by a white police officer on August 9. My first thoughts when I heard the news were about my 16-year-old son Luke. I knew how unlikely it would be that this would ever happen to my white son in America.

Coming to Ferguson was about Michael Brown. But Ferguson has also become a parable for our nation. Jesus often told parables. A parable is just a story, but often one with a simple but important point.

The Ferguson parable is simply this: black lives in America are worth less than white lives—especially in our criminal justice system. And the parable of Ferguson rings true around the nation, with the many young black men who were and have been assaulted, shot and killed before and after Michael Brown.

The big question for us is, how long will we accept the unacceptable? When will we decide to right this unacceptable wrong? I believe that is a question for parents, and for white parents in particular. How long will white parents accept the fact that the lives of children of black parents’ are worth less in our police and criminal justice systems than the lives of white sons and daughters?

Black parents are friends we meet through our children’s schools, colleagues in our workplaces, and the moms and dads we sit with at baseball and soccer games. Black parents are our brothers and sisters in Christ if we call ourselves Christians. So let’s be honest. If white Christians in America were willing to act more Christian that white when it comes to race, black parents would be less fearful for their children.

Every black parent I know or have ever spoken to has “The Talk” with their sons and daughters. “The Talk” is a conversation about how to behave and not to behave–“keep your hands open and out in front of you, shut your mouth, be respectful, say sir”–when you find yourself in the presence of a white policeman with a gun. But white parents don’t have to have this talk with their kids. That’s a radical difference between the experiences of black and white parents in America. How can we continue to accept that? Ferguson must be a moral wake-up call to white parents, not just another warning to black parents. That’s why I went to Ferguson this weekend and why I got arrested.

As a Little League baseball coach, I know that all the black parents of kids I have coached have had “The Talk,” while none of the white parents have had such conversations with their children. And most white parents haven’t got a clue that those talks are going on between their son’s black teammates and his parents. So what does it really mean to be teammates?

As Nicholas Kristof said in his Sunday New York Times column: “The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks… We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”

Let me add a tougher conclusion. To my white brothers and sisters: you can’t continue to say you are not racist when you continue to accept and support systems that are. It’s time for white people to take responsibility for our acceptance of racist systems.

These conversations will make people uncomfortable, and they should. I want to ask white parents to ask their black parent friends about “The Talk.” Ask them if they have had the talk with their sons. What did they say? What did their son say? How did it feel for them to have that conversation with their son? What’s it like not to be able to trust law enforcement in their own community?

The time for zero tolerance of racial policing has come. It’s time to right an unacceptable wrong. It’s time for white parents to join with black parents to make that happen. And it’s time for white Christians to join black Christians and say that black lives are important; all lives are important. These kids are not just God’s kids, they are our kids.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

We’re Doing Bigotry Wrong

Kali Holloway is a freelance writer and independent documentary film producer.

Fake apologies ask us to pretend that prejudices are shed as easily as coats

Recently, Charlotte Lucas – co-founder of Lucas Oil, the corporate namesake of the Indianapolis Colts’ football stadium — took to her Facebook account to comment on unchecked minority rule in America. “I’m sick and tired of minorities running our country!” her post began. Perhaps sensing that the phrase “our country” leaves some room for interpretation of proprietorship, Lucas helpfully clarified to whom she believes America does not belong:

“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think that atheists (minority), muslims (minority) n [sic] or any other minority group has [sic] the right to tell the majority of the people in the United States what they can and cannot do here. Is everyone so scared that they can’t fight back for what is right or wrong with his [sic] country?”

While she loses points for loose-cannon bigotry, you can’t accuse Lucas of being anything but plainspoken in her honesty. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine that her rant reads as anything other than she originally intended it to: an unrestrained and uncensored outpouring of her exasperation with what she sees as rampant minority overreach in national affairs. It’s odd then, that just 48 hours later, Lucas (or more plausibly, someone in her company’s public relations area) issued an apology in which she called her comments “insensitive,” saying that they “did not reflect [her] true feelings.”

A few days later, Forrest Lucas, co-owner of Lucas Oil and Charlotte’s husband, took out a full-page ad in The Indianapolis Star to again apologize for his wife’s rant. “She has issued an apology with the hope that it will be accepted as sincere,” the open letter stated. “The reality is that the message posted on Charlotte’s Facebook page does not reflect the feelings in her heart.”

And scene. That is to say, at this point, even the least imaginative among us could have scripted this procession of events, so familiar are we with the story arc. With her apology, Lucas joins a less than esteemed – but ever expanding – group of public figures who have made inflammatory and often straight-up offensive remarks, only to issue apologies within days and, not infrequently, hours.

There are a number of things about these sudden turnabouts that push and tug at the boundaries of credulousness, not the least of which is how miraculous – and while we’re at it, unbelievable – such a radical change of heart seems in such a brief period of time. It’s “sorry” as a plea for critics to get off your back; an empty gesture toward repentance to stem a rising tide of outrage and bad publicity.

But this kind of inauthentic contrition is ultimately not just useless, it does a disservice to us all. Fake apologies, particularly those extended for bigoted outbursts, ask us to pretend that prejudices are shed as easily as coats, and to believe they can be readily remedied with regretful turns of phrase. They insist that we collude in ignoring even the most loudly stated admissions of bias and, what’s more, that we overlook what they imply about the greater pervasiveness of those attitudes. They make no effort toward erasing bigotry itself, just any apparent signs of it.

Context is everything, and in the case of these sorts of apologies, we need only look at the larger culture to find it. The endless stream of false apologies from public figures mirrors our overall collective inability to admit or acknowledge our most deeply held feelings of prejudice and bias. And if the growing frequency of these insincere apologies is any indicator – and I believe they most certainly are – they are sentiments that are widely held, if rarely publicly spoken.

The front-and-center bigotry on display in the original inflammatory comments is, quite often, preferable to the racial shell game we find ourselves playing with empty public apologies. To recognize hateful language – as well as the feelings that inspire it – and call it out would be a far more effective means of dismantling racism and discrimination than the alternative of merely pretending to look the other way. You cannot change what you cannot name, as the old saying goes. It would also simply let us know where we all stand and force us to own our ugliest opinions. Ted Nugent may be an unrepentant racist and sexist, but he always keeps his hands where I can see them, so to speak.

Don’t get me wrong — saying awful things deserves reprisal, from boycotts of your brand to the loss, even temporarily, of your cable television show. But in a society where racism, sexism and bigotry impact nearly every measure of American life, honesty about prejudice and discrimination serves as a sort of useful tool for moving the conversation around issues such as race and gender forward. In short, the message is “say what you mean.” In the end, I’ll respect you more for it.

Kali Holloway is a freelance writer and independent documentary film producer. She lives in Brooklyn.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Daily Show Airs Segment That Infuriated Redskins Fans Before It Even Broadcast

Fans of the NFL team were outraged after being confronted on camera by Native American activists

Comedy Central aired an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Thursday night that waded into the controversy over the ‘Redskins’ NFL team name, despite outrage from team fans interviewed by the show who said they were “ambushed” and “duped” during the taping of the segment.

During one part of the report, Daily Show reporter Jason Jones spoke to a group of Native Americans who want the team name changed because they feel it is offensive, along with a group of Redskins fans who defended use of the name. The Redskins fans said they were surprised and upset when Jones invited the Native American activists to meet with them.

“This goes way beyond mocking. Poking fun is one thing, but that’s not what happened,” Kelli O’Dell, 56, told The Washington Post after the segment was first taped. “It was disingenuous. The Native Americans accused me of things that were so wrong. I felt in danger. I didn’t consent to that. I am going to be defamed.”

Before airing the segment, Stewart said the show takes seriously any claims that people are duped into participating. Comedy Central, it seems, determined that the offended fans were not misled.

TIME celebrities

Paula Deen Returns to Today: ‘My Words Hurt People’

"I'm so, so sorry for the hurt I caused people. Because it went deep."

One year after Paula Deen’s meltdown on NBC’s Today show — in which she “apologized” for using racial slurs 30 years ago with the declaration “I is what I is” — the cooking star reunited with Matt Lauer Tuesday to reflect on what the last 365 days had wrought.

It was a “dark and difficult year,” Lauer recalled to Deen, who appeared alongside her two sons. The celebrity chef lost her Food Network show in 2013 after a leaked deposition revealed she admitted using the n-word “a very long time” ago, and also that she had planned to host a “Southern plantation-styled” wedding featuring African-American servants.

Deen agreed with Lauer’s verdict, adding that doing the infamous Today interview had been a mistake. “That was a woman in trauma, shock, trying to understand what happened,” she said. “And you know the cold hard fact, Matt, is I probably should not have been here. I should have been home, maybe under the care of a doctor.”

She also apologized for the scandal. “My words hurt people,” Deen said. “They disappointed people, and quite frankly I disappointed myself. And for that I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry for the hurt I caused people. Because it went deep.”

So what is Deen up to after a year of self reflecting (and admittedly reading WeSupportPaulaDeen.com) on her couch?

Even though Lauer declared Deen had become “radioactive in the business world” after the scandal, Deen was promoting her new endeavor: The Paula Deen Network. Deen recently bought all of her content from The Food Network to fill the site alongside 20 other new shows a week.

Other things to look forward to? A documentary showing her side of the story will premiere exclusively on the digital network. Oh, and there might be a book.

“I really feel it’s going to require another book,” she said.

TIME Race

White Americans Need To Get Used To Being in the Minority

Indiana Pacers v Atlanta Hawks - Game Six
Mike Zarrilli—Getty Images

Gregory Rodriguez is publisher of Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Imperfect Union column.

While it lacks the cartoon-like buffoonery of Donald Sterling’s antics, the Bruce Levenson email affair tells us a whole lot more about the serious racial challenges facing America today

It’s not surprising that the release of Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson’s racially provocative email about his team’s fan base didn’t inspire the same level of public outrage as the secretly recorded rantings of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The Levenson story lacked the pathos, the sordid sexual angle, the dysfunctional marriage, and the irrational court maneuverings of a man whose own family trust declared him “mentally incapacitated.”

What’s more, as soon as Levenson knew the 2012 email would be released, he apologized for writing “inflammatory nonsense,” and (perhaps inspired by the $2 billion Clippers sales price) agreed to sell his controlling interest in the team. The Hawks owner’s pre-emptive capitulation deprived us all of the opportunity to engage in yet another all-consuming 24/7 media frenzy in which we could have endlessly chewed over the contents of his infamous email, and their significance.

I am not usually a fan of flooding the zone on the bad behavior of the rich and famous, but this story might have warranted it. Because while it lacks the cartoon-like buffoonery of Donald Sterling’s antics, the Levenson affair tells us a whole lot more about the serious racial challenges facing America today.

If nothing else, Levenson’s email should remind us how old-fashioned racism—the belief in the innate inferiority of members of an entire race—isn’t the only source of racial conflict in America. Levenson didn’t use racist epithets in his email to the team’s general manager. Nor did he articulate a disdain for African-Americans in general. What he did do, however, was express his belief that white fans were uncomfortable being outnumbered by black fans and that, given this assessment, he’d prefer a broader white fan base than a black one.

Did Levenson belittle the importance of African-American basketball fans? Absolutely. But ultimately his comments were about demographics, and the relative status and comfort implicit in being a member of a majority group.

When Americans refer to majority and minority populations, they are generally speaking of the demographics of the nation at large, which has always had a white Protestant majority. But since the founding of the republic, cities, towns, and states across the country have experienced dynamic population shifts that have turned local minorities into majorities and vice versa.

Germans became the majority in Milwaukee in the 1860s. Irish-Americans replaced white Anglo Saxon Protestants as the majority population in Boston around 1900. By 1980, blacks were the new majority in Baltimore. In 2001, whites became a minority in California. All of these demographic changes created intergroup tensions.

Now I’m not arguing that ethnicity represents as deep a divide as race in America. The history of black-white relations reveals levels of cruelty and enmity that even the bitterest tensions between Massachusetts WASPs and the Irish never did. But the principle is the same. The relative size of ethnic and racial groups can influence how members of these groups get along with one another. That’s because in intergroup relations – as in basketball – size matters. The majority status of racial or ethnic groups in any given location carries with it enough benefits to induce competition and tension.

A 2007 study of Illinois residents found that living in a “higher percentage same-race neighborhood” can improve “the emotional well-being” of residents. This research strongly implies that residents of such neighborhoods are seeking emotional as well as economic benefits in togetherness. Presumably, the racial and ethnic kinship of majority group membership shores up identity, protects against discrimination by non-group members, and provides networks and support.

Similarly, a 2004 study out of Germany found that, particularly in the Western world, minority and majority memberships have “distinct effects on a variety of important social psychological phenomena.” Most importantly, newfound minority status can create “a state of uneasy mindfulness” in individuals because they are suddenly more aware of their group identity. Majority members “can take their existence for granted,” the German study concluded—and as a result, “they tend to forget their identity (without losing it).” Minority members, however, can feel obliged to expend greater amounts of emotional energy asserting their identities and making space for themselves in the world.

Perhaps because Levenson himself is Jewish, he seems to implicitly understand the burdens of being in the minority. His email states explicitly that he thinks Southern whites “simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.” But rather than find ways to make both groups—and ideally others—feel welcome and included in the culture of Hawks fandom, he sided with whites, in part because he had already concluded, as he wrote in the damning email, that “there are simply not enough affluent blacks to build a significant season ticket base.”

The facts of the Levenson affair are very much specific to the universe of basketball fans in Atlanta, Georgia. But because demographers keep telling us that Anglos are projected to become a minority in the United States sometime around 2043, there is a broader, more far-reaching cautionary tale here.

Over the next several decades, how will whites react to losing their majority status in cities and counties across the country? How will prominent business owners and politicians seek to ease possible tensions? Will their long tenure as the historic majority make whites’ transition to minority status all the more difficult?

No, Levenson’s email won’t get the same attention as Donald Sterling’s pathetic rants. But its content and twisted logic speak to a far more endemic problem facing a rapidly changing America.

This piece originally appeared on Zócalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Race

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Bruce Levenson Isn’t a Racist; He’s a Businessman

Bruce Levenson
Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson Dave Tulis—AP

Sure, there are assumptions he makes that are cringeworthy—but the questions about how to attract more white fans were entirely reasonable.

Well, the pitchforks are already sharpened and the torches lit anyway, so rather than let them go to waste, why not drag another so-called racist before the court of public opinion and see how much ratings-grabbing, head-shaking and race-shaming we can squeeze out of it? After all, the media got so much gleeful, hand-wringing mileage out of Don Sterling and Michael Brown.

The only problem is that Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson is no Donald Sterling. Nor is his email racist. In fact, his worst crime is misguided white guilt.

I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. In the email, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations) the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90% blacks, kiss cams focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.

From left: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Dominique Wilkins Courtesy of Iconomy, LLC

Seems reasonable to ask those questions. If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?

Back when the original Law & Order first launched, there was a cast shake-up that added more women, reportedly in an effort to attract more female viewers. MTV shows like Finding Carter and Teen Wolf can’t get through an emotional scene without a pop song coming in to sing to the viewer what they should be feeling, because that’s what their demographic wants. Car companies hire specialized advertising agencies to create ads to appeal specifically to women, blacks and Latinos. That’s business.

Sure, there are a few assumptions he makes that make me cringe a little. For example: “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.” On the other hand, I have no evidence that he’s wrong on either count. Even if he is, the question still needed to be raised, because racism is a realistic possibility as to why whites in Atlanta may not be coming.

To Levenson’s credit, in that same paragraph, he dismisses fans who complained about the arena’s site as code for racist fear that “there are too many blacks at the games.” He further decries the white perception that even though the percentage of blacks in attendance had lessened, they still feel it’s higher and therefore somehow threatening. His outrage seems authentic.

Businesspeople should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business. They should even be able to make minor insensitive gaffes if there is no obvious animosity or racist intent. This is a business email that is pretty harmless in terms of insulting anyone — and pretty fascinating in terms of seeing how the business of running a team really works.

The thing that makes me mad is that Levenson was too quick to rend his clothing and shout mea culpa. In his apology, he wrote, “By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.” But that’s not the message in the email at all. If the seats had been filled, even if by all blacks, the email wouldn’t have been written. He wasn’t valuing white fans over blacks; he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That’s his job.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). He also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Basketball

Atlanta Hawks Owner Selling Team After Admitting Racist Email

Bruce Levenson
Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson cheers from the stands in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers in Atlanta, April 26, 2014. John Bazemore—AP

Bruce Levenson admitted to sending a racist email about Hawks fans in 2012

Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson said Sunday he will sell his shares of the team after admitting to sending racist emails in regard to the Hawks’ fan base.

In a statement released Sunday, Levenson said he voluntarily reported the 2012 email chain to the National Basketball Association in July because he believes the league should have a “zero tolerance for racism.” Though the NBA has not yet completed its independent review of the emails, Levenson said Sunday he will sell his controlling interest in the Hawks franchise.

“I’m truly embarrassed by my words in that e-mail, and I apologize to the members of the Hawks family and all of our fans,” Levenson said in a statement published in full on Basketball Insiders.

In the 2012 email, Levenson said he “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,” Levenson said. “If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself, too. It was inflammatory nonsense.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in his own statement Sunday that he commends Levenson for “putting the best interests of the Hawks, the Atlanta community, and the NBA first.”

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin will reportedly oversee team operations as the squad seeks a buyer. The Hawks owner’s response stands in stark contrast to the ugly removal of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was forced to sell his team and banned from the NBA following the publication of phone recordings in which Sterling made racist comments.

TIME Race

Negrophobia: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and America’s Fear of Black People

Demonstrators march down West Florissant during a peaceful march in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near Ferguson, Mio., Aug. 18, 2014.
Demonstrators march down West Florissant during a peaceful march in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near Ferguson, Mio., Aug. 18, 2014. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Phobias are extreme aversions embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. Some people are afraid of black people.

Phobias are lethal. This summer’s series of prominent killings of unarmed Black men, Michael Brown being the most covered, have forced me to come to terms with my own fear: I am an arachnophobe.

A few nights ago, I noticed a dark spot in my periphery. Suddenly it twitched. My stomach dropped. The dark spot was a five-inch spider, looking as if it had muscle and bone. There was no possible way I could sleep soundly until the behemoth was neutralized. I scrambled to find a shoe, then swung it with all my might. With a clap of thunder, the big dark enemy was no more; flattened to a wall stencil. Relief.

Phobias are extreme aversions. They are embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. For me, spiders trigger overreactions. For others, it can be people.

Black people.

Before there was Michael Brown, there was Eric Garner, a dark spot in the periphery of the NYPD—a trigger for their phobia. There was no possible way they could patrol confidently that day without assurance the behemoth was neutralized.

Garner’s 400-pound anatomy forms an object of American Negrophobia: the unjustified fear of black people. Studies show that Black people, particularly Black men, are the group most feared by White adults. Negrophobia fuels the triangular system of oppression that keeps people of color pinned into hapless ghettos between the pillars of militarized police, starved inner-city schools, and voracious prisons. And this summer there weren’t only Garner and Brown; there were John Crawford, and Ezell Ford, and many others who will not be eulogized in the media.

Even the most well-intentioned people sometimes have difficulty avoiding discourses that reinforce problematic notions of Black physicality. A few months ago, I got into a conversation with a mentor of mine, a Stanford administrator. This individual told a story of a visit to a penitentiary where there was a stellar performance of Shakespeare’s Othello by a cast of inmates. My mentor’s description of the lead, a brawny African-American male convict, will always fascinate me. In this person’s words, the thespian was a “large, beautiful, intimidating Black man.”

This stream of modifiers—large, beautiful, and intimidating—is normally reserved for majestic, predatory beasts like tigers, bears, or dragons. It describes something both appealing and appalling, but not typically a human. You can see classic buck and brute tropes echoed in various corners of modern popular culture. These types of perceptions of historically marginalized groups can, in the wrong circumstances, foment phobias—and dangerous overreactions.

But misperception is nothing new. The bestial depiction, and treatment, of Black people follows a linear history from the times of pickaninny children to the current United States president.

I hate to think this is what the police see when they approach any unarmed Black person—a predator that has escaped captivity and must be tranquilized before he or she wreaks havoc. And yet. An officer quelling Ferguson protests can be heard screaming on live television, “Bring it, all you f****** animals!” to the predominantly Black demonstrators.

Back to the spider once more: my perception of the fear and the ability of that spider to actually produce the threat I have mentally assigned it were completely disproportionate. It was just me spooking myself into fury. Phobic people hyperbolize a threat that is not actually present, and trip themselves into aggression. We as Americans must learn to see each other properly and not through the lens of phobia.

This is a plea to those officers who are unflinching in the gravest of dangers, whose courage is forged in the crucible of our nation’s worst emergencies, yet who lose all composure when facing the grimace of a Black man. The concept of diversity, like Eric Garner, is large, beautiful, and sometimes intimidating. America will only be America once we learn how to fully appreciate it, not fear it. One day, I hope, we won’t see our fellow humans as dark spots.

Brandon Hill is a junior at Stanford University, studying political science and African & African American Studies. Raised in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, he has interned for the White House and UNICEF.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser