These days, you can lose your job for a tweet. You can lose it for a retweet, or a spouse’s tweet. If your message is considered racist or hateful, it can bring an onslaught of condemnation, followed swiftly by an erasure of your reputation and your career.
So it might seem surprising that after NFL star DeSean Jackson posted several anti-Semitic messages on Instagram last weekend — including a quote he (wrongly) attributed to Adolf Hitler claiming Jews “will extort America” and “have a plan for world domination” — there was no mass outrage from his industry, and no immediate punishment from his team.
In fact, although they labeled the posts “offensive” and “appalling,” it took nearly a week before the Philadelphia Eagles finally announced the consequences for Jackson’s hateful messages: An undisclosed fine.
Think about that. A fine. Meanwhile, despite Jackson repeating the worst form of Jewish stereotyping and citing not only Hitler but Louis Farrakhan, who has called Jews “satanic” and likened them to “termites,” only a handful of athletes (several of them Jewish) and some notable media voices criticized him.
Jackson did, however, receive support from other sports stars, including former NBA player Stephen Jackson, who initially said DeSean was “speaking the truth” and claimed Jews “are the richest” and “control the banks,” then later said, “I don’t support Hitler, I don’t know nothing about Hitler and I could give a [expletive] about Hitler!”
Fellow Eagle Malik Jackson supported DeSean Jackson as well, and echoed praise for Farrakhan, even though Farrakhan has referred to Hitler as “a very great man.”
Malcolm Jenkins, an NFL player with the New Orleans Saints known for social justice advocacy, seemed bothered that this was “a distraction” from the Black Lives Matter movement, saying: “Jewish people aren’t our problem, and we aren’t their problem … We’ve got a lot of work to do, and this ain’t it.”
Respectfully, Malcolm, yes, it is.
Because you can’t separate one hate from all hate, any more than you can separate a breeze from the wind.
It’s not ancient history
Now, none of this diminishes the alarming issues of race in America. And before you make any assumptions, I don’t think DeSean Jackson needs to be fired. True, others have lost their jobs for far less. But continuing that trend doesn’t improve things.
Jackson issued apologies, agreed to meet with some Jewish leaders, and vowed to do better. Stephen Jackson also walked back some of his words. Yes, others have been similarly contrite and still lost their jobs. But comparing punishments can distract from progress.
So let’s try to make progress. We hear a lot about “listening” these days, right? I’d like to request that Jackson, Jenkins, Malik Jackson and Stephen Jackson listen — really listen — to the following:
The reason Jewish people aren’t surprised by hateful comments is because anti-Semitism is the oldest form of bigotry in the world. It dates back to biblical times and has never had a pause.
Ancient Jews were hated for sticking to their faith and not bowing to whatever idols were being worshipped. They were hated for eating differently. For praying differently. According to the Old Testament, they were enslaved in Egypt for generations because of their beliefs.
Seventy years after the birth of Christ, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish temple. Jews were scattered. In the centuries that followed, they were ostracized, marginalized and denied basic rights.
Dehumanization? Jews know all about it. They were forbidden to intermarry, forbidden from holding government jobs, accused of having hidden horns and tails. They were raped and massacred throughout the Crusades. Falsely accused of spreading bubonic plague and burned alive because of it. Continually persecuted and murdered as “Christ killers.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Catholic Church finally repudiated that.
Superstitions about Jews, spoken and written, claimed they wanted to drink Christian blood. They have been stereotyped as dirty, money-grubbing, hook-nosed. Their deaths have been called for more times than you can count.
And lest this be dismissed as ancient history, it was less than 85 years ago that Jews were rounded up all throughout Europe and systematically exterminated in Nazi death camps. Yellow stars were stitched to their clothes. Numbers were tattooed on their arms. Body by body, Jew by Jew, they were shot in the head, experimented upon like rats and gassed in phony “showers,” their lifeless bodies tossed in giant pits.
Six million Jews were lost in the Holocaust, along with millions of other innocent victims. Had they not been wiped out, there would be more than twice as many Jews in the world today, according to demographers. The decimation of family lineage is impossible to measure.
This horror ended only in 1945. There are still people living with tattooed numbers on their arms, and nightmares of hollow-eyed corpses in their dreams. Yet anti-Semitism is again on the rise, like a shark that keeps coming back. Mass shootings at synagogues. Attacks on rabbis. Swastikas painted on Jewish graves. And the tireless poison talk about money, power, and secret plans that Nazis used to spread and DeSean Jackson perpetuated.
Statistics show anti-Semitism is at near historic levels. So when Stephen Jackson says, “I don’t know nothing about Hitler and I could give a [expletive] about Hitler,” he needs to understand: That is hate speech to a Jewish person.
You do need to know about Hitler, Stephen. You need to give a (expletive) about him. You need to get why quoting or extolling him is every bit as unforgivable as extolling a KKK leader.
If you don’t, you can’t be about love and respect. Part of inspiring others to care about your pain is caring about theirs.
An unequal response
Now, some may wonder why it took the Eagles front office so long to level even meager punishment to Jackson, especially because the owner, Jeffrey Lurie, is Jewish.
I can’t speak for them. I can speculate that seven years ago, when an Eagles player named Riley Cooper was caught in a video using the N-word during an argument at a country music concert, the team also levied an “undisclosed fine,” and perhaps there was pressure not to exceed that.
You could argue the punishment was too soft then and too soft now. You could certainly argue that 2013 is not 2020, that our intolerance for any bigotry is far more heightened these days.
But the truth of Jackson’s wrist slap is likely this: Anti-Semitism doesn’t cause the same fury as other prejudices. There is rarely as loud or sustained an outcry when a synagogue is attacked or a Jewish person is killed for his faith. Or the entire Jewish population is slandered.
This was reflected in the tepid reaction to DeSean Jackson, and in Jenkins’ statements that “Jewish people aren’t our problem” and “Let’s not lose focus on what the problem truly is … ”
No, Malcolm, this is what the problem “truly is.” Intolerance. Stereotyping. Repeating others’ hate-filled rhetoric. It’s all wrapped together, and if you go ballistic on one, you should go ballistic on the other, especially when it’s within your own industry.
DeSean Jackson got his Hitler quote wrong. But here’s one that’s accurate. It comes from Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” which, despite our recent trend of banning offensive works, you can still buy on Amazon:
“The personification of the devil, as the symbol of all evil, assumes the living shape of the Jew.”
That’s the kind of venom Jewish people have been living with for centuries, before and after Hitler tried to wipe them from the face of the earth.
Maybe Stephen Jackson can understand now why you can’t just say, “I could give a (expletive).”
“Silence is compliance.” That’s a popular sentence today. But you can’t be selective with your noise. Not against hate. For all the bigoted garbage stirred up against Jews last week, it was disturbingly quiet out there. We should think twice about why that is.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.