Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson has announced he will sell his share in the NBA team after "an email two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive." The email to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry bemoaned the high percentage of black cheerleaders and said that white fans may have been scared away by black fans. It's hardly the first instance of racism in the world of sports.
In April 2014, then-Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling came under fire for making racist remarks against African-Americans in comments to his companion V. Stiviano. The recorded conversation was published online. In response, the NBA banned Sterling for life, fined him the maximum $2.5 million and moved toward terminating the Sterlings' ownership rights in the franchise. In August, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer became the new owner of the Clippers.
Racism among European soccer fans has long been an issue teams and players have struggled with. The latest occurrence on April 27, 2014, saw Brazilian soccer star Dani Alves, who plays for Barcelona, reverting to humor in picking up and eating a banana thrown at him by a Villarreal fan in a racial taunt at El Madrigal Stadium. The fan was later banned for life from the stadium by the La Liga club.
On April 25, 2012, the Washington Capitals' Joel Ward scored the series-clinching overtime goal against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The victory was bittersweet as Twitter soon exploded with racist messages directed at Ward, a Canadian native whose parents are from Barbados.
The Golf Channel broadcaster Kelly Tilghman was suspended for two weeks in January 2008 after joking about Tiger Woods being "lynched in a back alley" during final round coverage of the Mercedes-Benz Championship. Golfweek magazine later ran a story about the incident, featuring a controversial cover portraying a hanging noose. The cover choice was widely criticized and led to the firing of the magazine's editor, Dave Seanor.
After Tiger Woods won the Masters tournament at age 21 in 1997, fellow golfer Fuzzy Zoeller made comments congratulating him and then went on to refer to Woods as a "little boy" and warned him not to order fried chicken or collard greens for the Champions Dinner the following year. Zoeller said his comments were misconstrued and eventually met for lunch with Woods, who accepted his apology for the remarks.
You would have thought everybody would have learned something from Zoeller's "joke gone bad," but that apparently wasn't so. While being interviewed by The Golf Channel's Steve Sands at the European Tour Players' Awards Dinner in May 2013, Sergio Garcia answered the question on whether he and and Woods, who were famously feuding, would be sitting down to dinner during the upcoming U.S. Open with, "We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken." Garcia issued a statement later that night apologizing and then issued another apology the next day, saying that his comments were "totally stupid and out of place."
Rush Limbaugh resigned from his position on ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" pregame show in October 2003 after making controversial comments regarding Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. In his comments during a pregame show, the conservative talk show host said that McNabb wasn't as good as the media perceived him to be. "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,'' Limbaugh said. "There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team." In his statement announcing his resignation, Limbaugh said his comments were directed at the media and were not racially motivated.
In February 1993, Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was fined $250,000 and banned from day-to-day operations of the team for the 1993 season due to "using language that is racially and ethnically offensive." Major League Baseball would later ban her from managing the team from 1996 through 1998 due to statements in support of Adolf Hitler's domestic policies. Shortly afterwards, she sold the majority of her share in the team.
On Jan. 16, 1988, Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, whose real name was Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos, was fired by CBS, where he had been a regular on the pregame show "The NFL Today" since 1976, after commenting to a reporter in a Washington, D.C., restaurant that black athletes were naturally superior at least in part because they had been bred to produce stronger offspring during slavery. He's seen here (second from right), circa 1976, with "NFL Today" colleagues Brent Musburger, Phyllis George and Irv Cross.
Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Al Campanis was forced by the team to resign on April 8, 1987, over remarks he had made while on ABC's "Nightline" two days earlier, saying that blacks "may not have some of the necessities" to hold managerial jobs in Major League Baseball.
Calvin Griffith, who moved the Washington Senators to Bloomington, Minn., in 1961 and renamed them the Minnesota Twins, was famous for being outspoken. Some comments he made in 1978 while speaking at a Lions Club dinner in Waseca, Minn., drew charges of racism. The Minneapolis Tribune quoted Griffith as saying, "I'll tell you why we came to Minnesota. It was when we found out you only had 15,000 blacks here. Black people don't go to ballgames, but they'll fill up a rassling ring and put up such a chant it'll scare you to death. We came here because you've got good, hardworking white people here."
As he approached Babe Ruth's career home run record in 1973-74, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves was the recipient of death threats and hate mail from people who did not want to see the record broken. Even the media covering Aaron were subject to threats, with Lewis Grizzard, then the sports editor at the Atlanta Journal reportedly receiving numerous phone calls calling journalists "n***** lovers" for covering Aaron's pursuit of the record.
George Preston Marshall, the owner of the NFL's Washington Redskins from 1932 until his death in 1969, became infamous for his intractable opposition to having black players on his team. He once said, "We'll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites." While the rest of the league began signing black players in 1946 and drafting black players in 1949, Marshall held out until 1962 before signing a black player. And that was only after Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy issued an ultimatum that Marshall do so or the government would revoke the Redskins' 30-year lease on the year-old D.C. Stadium (now Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium).
When he broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers was met with resistance and racism by some players and fans. Some of his own teammates insinuated they would sit out rather than play alongside him until team management made a stand for Robinson. He was also subjected to rough physical play by opponents and racial epithets hurled by both players and fans.
Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the sprint and long jump events at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, including a win in the 100m sprint in front of Adolf Hitler. The Nazi leader had allowed only athletes of the "Aryan race" to compete for Germany in order to promote his ideological belief of racial supremacy. Hitler also reportedly did not honor Owens, who was black, the same way he honored other top athletes at the games, a snub that Owens repeatedly recounted throughout his life.