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Jews, American Football and Anti-Semitism: 12 thoughts

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

The big sports news this past week has not been the return of sports leagues in the USA or even Patrick Mahomes' signing the richest contract in the history of North America. It pains me as an Eagles fan to say this, but it was the incredibly insensitive anti-Semitic tweet by Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The quote is ascribed to Hitler (though he never said it) but rather comes from Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam. Since many of you know that while I am a tour guide of Israel and live here in Jerusalem, I am originally from Philadelphia and a huge Philly sports fan, I figured you would expect me to weigh in on this.

Before I give you my thoughts (which I promise are below), clear your schedules for Sunday night from 7-10 ET. Jewish professional football players, past and present, are set to appear on a live internet broadcast to talk about being Jewish in the NFL, how to empower people through sports and how being Jewish makes them stand out. I am certain that this issue will play a part in the talk as well and we should absolutely listen to their perspective on this. Information is below...

A few thoughts:

  • Retweeting what someone else says is an endorsement of what they say - unless you specifically give some qualifiers

  • Quoting Hitler (even if it wasn't actually from him) is never a good thing

  • Disparaging any ethnicity, race or religion is obviously wrong and abhorrent but choosing the group that your bosses belong to is incredibly stupid

  • Why is it that athletes across the board jumped on Drew Brees but almost no players have called out Jackson (though a number of journalists have) - and some have supported him - kudos to the one NFL player who has spoken up (see video below).

  • Why does it seem like attacks on Jews don't bring the same sense of being appalled or shamed as they do when virtually all other groups/ethnicities/races are involved? Perhaps that's why the number of reported hate crimes against Jews dwarfs that of all other religious groups - combined.

  • Trying to lift yourself up by bringing down someone else is never the answer - especially when that group historically has been the first one to stand by your side. Shoutout to ESPN reporter Elle Duncan for her unequivocal statements of support.

  • An apology of "I'm sorry you feel that way" or "I'm sorry you took it that way" or "I definitely didn't mean it to the extent that you guys took it," is not a real apology. It is worried about getting punished but not taking responsibility for what one did.

  • Every time there is a story like this, the comment sections are just filled with anti-Semitism - from both the right and left. It seems to be the only thing they can agree on. Read at your own peril - but know that it is out there and it is scary.

  • At the beginning of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum there is a quote by Kurt Tucholsky that says “A country is not just what it does—it is also what it tolerates.” People who are looking for a strong black leader and turn to Louis Farrakhan - a rabid anti-Semite who alters history and blames Jews for the problems of African-Americans - are guilty of tolerating a bigot.

  • I am not someone who believes in cultural appropriation in most cases (obviously there are limits - wearing blackface or calling your team the Redskins are not good ways to respect others to say the least). If one can't eat sushi because it is someone else's food or wear a dress that they like because it was originally made by people in another country or get a certain haircut because people from another race made it famous then all of our lives are going to be very dull. Variety is the spice of life, so they say. But there are limits. The idea that Farrakhan espouses that Jackson retweeted - and that no commentator is discussing - is that the African-Americans are the real Israelites/Jews and that the Jews are racist impostors. Usurping someone's history and identity is the absolute worst form of cultural appropriation - and that is what we are talking (or apparently not talking) about here - not a black person eating pizza.

  • Just to be clear - Jews are not a race and we are not a religion. We are a people/family. We are multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-denominational. There are Jews that look like every color on the pigment scale - but our skin tone is not what defines us. Ancient Israelites - as a group - were not black. They were almost certainly mostly Middle Eastern looking - though yes, there were people with brown skin among them (and the Torah makes that clear notably in the case of Moses' wife - which shows that there is also racism among us that we have to address). As we moved around the world, intermarriage and conversions have diversified our skin tones so that people often look the color of what people in that land look like. African-Americans as a group are not "the real Jews," though some of them of course are Jews. Yet we have much in common including a history of enduring some of the worst tragedies to befall people on this Earth - and hopefully should be using those commonalities to stand together and lift each other up.

  • What Jackson retweeted was indefensible and abhorrent and factually incorrect on many levels. Yet I do not believe in cancel culture. I believe as a religious Jew in the power of teshuva - repentance. For everyone who yelled at former Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who was arrested for running a dog-fighting ring - as horrible as his actions were, he has done true teshuva. He served his time - which he should have done. Yet long after his playing days - on his own volition - he continues to go to schools and youth groups to own up to what he did and speak out against that behavior and teach others so that they do not go down the same path he did. As such I believe that firing or releasing Jackson is not going to have the effect of helping him to make a change in his life - it will only make us feel good. It would feed our need for retaliation/justice/vengeance but not help him make a positive change - and could actually likely just embitter him. And of course some other team will undoubtedly pick him up... and then what? The answer as I see it is to suspend him. Have him take classes and learn a) the truth and b) why his words were so hurtful. Let him use the incredible platform he has to be able to effect positive change in others as well. Then, when he has done real teshuva, let him come back to the team. If he fails to do that, however, that would be the time to let him go. If he doubles down on his hate (like Stephen Jackson, the commentator) he should immediately be gone.

  • Kudos to NFL star Julian Edelman, whose father's family is Jewish, who has reached out to Jackson to go together to the Holocaust Museum and African-American History Museum in DC and start a conversation together. Obviously it's a start but the Eagles - and the league - need to put forward a true plan of action.

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