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February 18, 2021 4:44 pm
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Pittsburgh Steelers’ Zach Banner Urges NFL to Adopt IHRA Definition of Antisemitism, Speaks Out on ‘Lack of Understanding’

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

(From top left, clockwise) Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh director Lauren Apter Bairnsfather; WNBA champion Alysha Clark; NFL player Zach Banner; and Washington Nationals first baseman Josh Bell. Photo: Screenshot.

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Zach Banner is encouraging the National Football League and all its teams to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Anti-Semitism has been adopted by 30+ countries & companies around the world. I encourage the @steelers and teams across the @NFL to adopt the IHRA Working Definition as we stand against hate,” he said in a Twitter post Wednesday night.

Banner’s comment came shortly after he led a virtual 90-minute panel discussion, “Athletes Against Antisemitism,” which featured Washington Nationals first baseman Josh Bell; Washington Mystics WNBA champion Alysha Clark; Jasiri X, hip-hop artist and co-founder of activist group 1Hood Media; and Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, leader of the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a deadly mass shooting took place in October 2018.

During the online event, Banner urged the NFL to adopt the leading definition of antisemitism, saying, “there’s a real lack of understanding of what antisemitism is today. How can a society begin to address a problem if we don’t even agree or define what the problem is?”

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Clark and Bell said they will speak to their teams about also adopting the IHRA definition, which says: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In July 2020, Banner shared a video on Twitter condemning antisemitism and showing solidarity with the Jewish community after fellow NFL player DeSean Jackson posted online antisemitic comments made by Hitler. Many Jewish NFL players and executives thanked Banner for publicity denouncing Jackson’s behavior when others did not, he told viewers on Wednesday night.

At the panel discussion, reflecting on what motivated him to speak out at the time, Banner said, “It was just stepping up for what’s right…It’s a personal belief that I have in the National Football League that when one of us mess up, we have to step up and hold each other accountable in a professional matter to where we preach change.”

Bell added that combatting racism in America “starts with yourself on a personal level, even if it’s not your fight to fight, [but] understanding that there’s a fight for equality.

“And I think that if you can not pass down the hatred, if we can nip that right now, our kids will live better lives and their kids will live better lives. And then you won’t see country clubs that won’t allow Black or Jews in; you won’t see hate crimes in synagogues or churches…you can see the America that we have envisioned and idolized our whole lives.”

Bell told viewers that the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, which resulted in the deaths of 11 Jewish worshippers, “was the first instance where I realized that it wasn’t just hatred against Blacks in America that needed to be addressed.”

“Hatred is one and the same,” he asserted. “The idea the one person is less than the next, because of history or skin color or religion, is something that we all need to educate ourselves on. Education is key. You learn, you grow and you can make better decisions in the future.”

Rabbi Myers said, “You can’t understand someone unless you walk a mile in their shoes, to hear their stories, to hear the concerns. … We’re stronger when we’re together.”

Clark, whose grandfather is Jewish, said she believes “the biggest key in change” is “just being open-minded to listening, because something doesn’t have to specifically happen to you, for you to know that it’s wrong or for you to have empathy. I think through these conversations you can learn some really powerful stories and ways to continue to stay involved.”

During the discussion, Banner — who is not Jewish, and is of Chamorro and African-American descent — admitted that he is often asked why he voices support for the Jewish community.

He explained, “Personally, my Black and Brown fellow community members and people from back home sometimes wonder ‘Why are you sticking up so much for them?’ And when you say ‘them,’ that’s a separating thing. You don’t realize [you’re] being a hypocrite. You have to stand up for what’s right. And I’m not saying my family or my group of friends are like that but some are, and we have to realize that hate is hate and we have to put a stop to it.”

The NFL athlete concluded the panel discussion by saying, “It’s important that players like us keep standing up and speaking out for the injustices we witness. We have a big platform and it’s our privilege to get to use those to help others.”

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