How much anti-Semitism does it take to cancel an NFL star?

DeSean Jackson’s Hitler quotes are outrageous, though the question isn’t about firing him. It’s about why Louis Farrakhan’s malign influence isn’t being fully recognized.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson during a 2008 game against the Washington Redskins. Credit: Mr. Shultz via Wikimedia Commons.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson during a 2008 game against the Washington Redskins. Credit: Mr. Shultz via Wikimedia Commons.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Imagine if a professional football player used his Instagram account to support the Ku Klux Klan and to promote hateful myths attributing horrible crimes to African-Americans. What would happen?

It doesn’t require any imagination at all to understand that the consequences would be as immediate as they would be harsh. Indeed, as the sports world has shown in recent months, the likelihood is that the player’s career would be in jeopardy. And if he were a marginal figure in the sport, then there would be no doubt that he’d be finished.

As Los Angeles Galaxy soccer player Aleksandr Katai learned a month ago, you don’t even have to be the person posting material deemed racist to be literally, rather than figuratively, canceled. The Major League Soccer team cut Katai after his wife posted captions to pictures of African-Americans demonstrating against police brutality in the wake of the George Floyd killing that were disrespectful and profane. That it was not Katai himself doing the posting but his wife didn’t get him off the hook for that offense. Nor did the fact that her words, which were deemed racist, were in Serbian mitigate his punishment. Even after he condemned his wife’s language, the team swiftly ended his tenure with the team.

Will the same thing happen to Philadelphia Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson? So far, though he has been rebuked by his team, there has been no rush to fire him even if his offense is worse.

Yet the question to ask about the kerfuffle over Jackson having posted anti-Semitic fake Adolf Hitler quotes and genuine hate from Louis Farrakhan on his Instagram account isn’t that he may survive the ordeal and not lose his job. Rather, the real issue that should be explored is the fact that Farrakhan continues to spread his pernicious influence over a significant portion of the African-American community and the way this helps spread anti-Semitism.

While the consequences for his post are not yet determined, it has not escaped notice that Jackson’s truly hateful action hasn’t yet generated nearly the opprobrium that landed on Drew Brees a few weeks ago when he reiterated his belief that it was inappropriate for players to kneel rather than stand at attention during the national anthem. Brees wasn’t suspended or fired, but the storm of criticism directed at him for disagreeing with the gesture favored by Black Lives Matter sympathizers in the league forced him to repeatedly apologize and retract what was previously considered mainstream opinion.

Jackson, too, has apologized for his post, but in his case, there really is something to apologize for.

He posted on his account a statement falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler that said:

Hitler said, because the white Jews knows that the Negros are the real Children of Israel and to keep Americas secret the Jews will black mail America. 

The will extort America, their pan to world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were. 

The white citizens of America will be terrified to know that all this time they’ve been mistreating and discriminating and lynching Children of Israel.

He also shared two now-deleted posts praising Farrakhan.

While he issued a half-hearted apology, he claimed these blatantly anti-Semitic and hateful lines aimed at demonizing Jews were taken “the wrong way.” Instead, he said, “I have no hatred in my heart toward no one. Equality. Equality.”

Of course, there is no way to interpret those lines as anything but an attempt to spread hate. And, unlike with Brees, who was widely condemned by teammates and foes alike, there appears to be no groundswell of outrage at Jackson from other NFL players.

Should his hate cause the former All-Pro player, who is known as much for some of the egregious blunders he’s committed on the field as for his talent, to lose his career?

As Katai knows, far less than that can get you permanently canceled. Still, Eagles fans—like most of those who loyally follow professional sports teams—only care about whether or not their team wins. For their sake, one can hope they will be spared the indignity of having him remain on their team. But if they were ready to cheer for a person who had been convicted of cruelly slaughtering and forcing dogs to fight to the death as a form of “entertainment” (like former quarterback Michael Vick), then I imagine many can live with Jackson if he’s perceived as being still able to help bring the team to victory.

Sports is a business, and if a team believes that it will lose more money by employing someone related to a racist, as is the case with Katai, than if they are actually guilty of the grossest anti-Semitism, as is true of Jackson, then they will cut one but hold on to the other.

Yet to the extent that Jackson’s infamous hate is being noted, the discussion is not focusing enough on the fact that his rants were clearly inspired by Farrakhan.

The upsurge in anti-Semitism among African-Americans got some attention last year as a result of surge of violence against Orthodox Jews in the Greater New York area. But most of those who commented about these crimes were eager to avoid the fact that Farrakhan’s influence within the African-American community has helped legitimize hateful attitudes towards Jews.

Farrakhan continues to be treated as a respected figure in a black community that values what it sees as his positive attributes and resents being told by whites—or Jews—who deserves to be spoken of as one of its leaders.

And though his views are as hateful as, say, a Klan leader like David Duke, his followers and those who are influenced by the Nation of Islam movement number in at least the hundreds of thousands rather than the small number of adherents that neo-Nazis and other white nationalists can claim.

Nor is there enough attention paid to the way Farrakhan’s hate dovetails with intersectional smears of Israel and Jews that are promoted by many on the left.

Whether or not Jackson is judged by a more generous standard than others associated with prejudice isn’t all that important. But as long as Farrakhan’s influence is dismissed rather than addressed head on by African-American faith and political leaders, as well as their non-black friends and allies, we should not be surprised when statements such as Jackson’s or outbreaks of hateful violence occur. The willingness to downplay the anti-Semitism inspired by Farrakhan and his movement is a problem that can’t continue to be ignored.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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