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July 21, 2020 2:16 pm

Jewish NFL Players Discuss Need for More Education About Antisemitism After DeSean Jackson Controversy


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

(Clockwise from top left) Moderator Michael Neuman, Greg Joseph, Anthony Firkser and Geoff Schwartz. Photo: Screenshot.

Nine current and former Jewish NFL players participated in a three-hour live stream event on Sunday to talk about what they believed the proper response should be to Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson after his recent antisemitic social media activity.

The virtual conversation about antisemitism was broadcast on and moderated by Michael Neuman, a winner of Lebron James’s athletic competition “Million Dollar Mile.” The online gathering was co-organized by Neuman’s Jewish Inspiration Foundation.

On July 6, Jackson shared on Instagram a quote, falsely attributed to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, about Blacks being “the real Children of Israel.” The quote also included conspiracy theories about Jewish “world domination” and attempts by Jews to “blackmail” and “extort” America. Jackson later apologized and was fined by the Eagles, but not suspended or released from the team, whose owner and general manager are both Jewish.

Former NFL player Geoff Schwartz began Sunday’s live stream event by calling out Jackson’s “ignorance” for sharing the antisemitic social media post. He said Jackson had “no idea whatsoever what antisemitism is, why his quote could be hurtful to Jews, really to a lot of people.”

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“It’s not like Hitler liked black people either,” Schwartz noted. “He didn’t like anyone other than blonde hair, blue-eyed Germans. So I just looked at it as ignorance.”

He compared Jackson’s ignorance to his own experience with past teammates who did not know anything about Judaism. The former athlete, who played for five teams in the eights years that he was with the NFL, said during his career he had many conversations with teammates about Judaism in an attempt to teach them about the Jewish religion and way of life. He added that he was glad Jackson agreed to learn about the Holocaust and the Jewish people.

Tennessee Titans placekicker Greg Joseph applauded New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman’s willingness to help Jackson educate himself about the Holocaust, saying it was the same route he would take with Jackson.

Former NFL player Ron Mix — who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 — said Jackson “should be admired for his willingness to learn the truth,” which he said was that “the Jews have been the most valuable friends the Blacks have ever had in the fight for social, racial and economic justice.”

Bob Stein, who in 1969 became the first Jewish player to play on a Super Bowl-winning team, called Jackson’s post “a spectacularly ignorant set of comments.” Stein, who was the first president and CEO of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, said he hoped Jackson’s apology “has some sincerity and is more than just ‘oops, I want to get out of the way of this problem.’”

Retired NFL player Josh Miller said of Jackson, “At the end of the day, if he was educated and he knew the history, he probably wouldn’t say those things.”

Ed Neuman, who had a 12-year NFL career with the Miami Dolphins and is now a judge, called Jackson’s actions “definitely very ignorant.”

Mike Rosenthal — who left the NFL in 2008 after nine seasons — said, “We have to have these conversations about racism, and about antisemitism. Let’s just talk about it. Society has to have those uncomfortable conversations.”

Most of the participants of the online discussion acknowledged that many of their current or former teammates had either never met a Jew before or knew almost nothing about Judaism.

When asked about “cancel culture” and why antisemitism was sometimes given a “free pass,” Schwartz commented, “Unfortunately it’s been happening for so many years that I think people just ignore it.”

Regarding Jackson, he noted, “We would rather go the education route than the cancel route. Maybe that’s our fault. Maybe we’re being too easy on DeSean. But I think Jewish people, we’re just raised on compassion, empathy, trying to teach and spread love. And I think we look at situations like this and say, ‘Let’s try to educate the guy, not cancel him.'”

Schwartz also addressed a concern many people had about not enough athletes rebuking Jackson for his actions. The lack of outrage in the sports and entertainment industries over recent incidents of antisemitism was even the focus of a column written by NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for The Hollywood Reporter.

“There are four or five Jewish players in the NFL. There’s not a lot of us,” said Schwartz. “You have teammates who are black. You see the pain they’re going through with the George Floyd death. It’s easy to say, ‘Hey man, I got you. I understand what you’re talking about.’ [But] there’s no Jews. They don’t know really know any Jews. They don’t know what we’re upset about. So that’s why I think it really hasn’t happened with the force that people expected.”

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