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November 11, 2022 3:10 pm

Sports Journalist’s Defense of Kyrie Irving Is a Disgrace

avatar by Alan Zeitlin


Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Kyrie Irving. Photo: Reuters/ Marty Jean-Louis

For the first time in my life, I cried while reading sports social media accounts.

It was because there were endless comments of people saying they agreed with NBA basketball player Kyrie Irving, who tweeted a link to an antisemitic film that vilified Jews, blamed them for the slave trade, and promoted lies about the Holocaust.

In recent months, I have interviewed people and written about Jews getting stabbed, punched, or scapegoated for being Jewish. It’s hard to believe this is 2022.

A number of sports personalities came out against Irving’s false apology, which only took place after Irving had ample time to renounce his actions, did not, and then was suspended for five games by the Brooklyn Nets.

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What did some ESPN personalities say on air?

Ramona Shelburne: “It’s not gonna be satisfactory to just apologize on Instagram.” She noted there was Holocaust denial in the film Irving promoted.

David Dennis, Jr.: “…you [Irving] said you did not make the documentary, but you spread it around. … This is not the type of work for Black liberation that he claims it is. This is about one man and attention and trying to, you know, spread some sort of message that is not good for anybody.

Tony Kornheiser: “I looked at the apology. I thought it was utterly worthless.”

Michael Wilbon: “I dismiss it [the apology]. … if he’d issued this apology initially, he most likely would have avoided his own predicament. But he didn’t want to, cause he wanted to double down, he wanted to show you how smart he was. … Now it’s too late. It’s a full-fledged firestorm and it’s not gonna go away quickly or easily.”

On TNT, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal referred to Irving as an “idiot,” but Barkley inarticulately said it’s about offending people. It’s much more than that.

Jason Whitlock, a sports columnist I have admired, addressed the controversy on his show, “Fearless.” He strangely made some equivalence to Bill Maher’s 2008 film “Religulous,” and said there was no punishment to Maher.

Mr. Whitlock, I read the column you wrote. I have great eyesight. I don’t see one falsehood you point out from Maher’s film. Does he have opinions that may offend me and others? Sure. But it’s based on faith or a lack thereof. That is different from Holocaust denial. Do you believe the Holocaust took place? Judging by your column on “Religulous,” it would appear that you do. You ask in your column how Maher thinks Jews got through the Holocaust.

I have interviewed many Holocaust survivors. Some believe God saved them and got them through. Some don’t believe in God. That’s not the point. The point is that films involving conspiracy theories — like the one Irving promoted — contain lies, and they become a rallying cry for violence against Jews.

Whitlock says he watched about 90 minutes of the documentary Irving promoted, and can’t understand the overreaction. That is absurd. There is no defense for Holocaust denial. Rather than addressing the controversy in a serious way, Whitlock prefers to promote his own conspiracy theories — by claiming this is all taking place because Irving didn’t get “the jab.”

People can debate how Irving should be punished. But to claim the controversy is an overreaction is like spitting in the face of Holocaust survivors, and every Jew who has ever been persecuted because of their religion. Whitlock feeds into that scapegoating with his conspiracy theories.

Imagine if a Jewish NBA player tweeted a link to a film that in some way denied the truth about slavery; would Whitlock think any controversy was an overraction? I don’t think so.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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