Last night, it was brought to light that DeSean Jackson spent his weekend posting anti-Semitic quotes all over his Instagram and glowingly shared videos of renowned anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. Understandably, this caused quite the late-night stir across the internet. Former Eagles executive Joe Banner, a Jewish man, weighed in and even suggested that ousting the receiver from the team would be totally appropriate. While it would be understandable, outrightly cutting DeSean Jackson would be a mistake.
Bigotry and hate are experienced uniquely. I think it is important to respect, listen to and address people from marginalized groups when they say harm is done. When Joe Banner expresses the pain Jackson’s words have caused him, I believe him. When Jeffrey Lurie or Howie Roseman, both Jewish, inevitably speak on the words of their employee, I will believe them too. I am also Jewish; observant and active in the Jewish community. I have a grandfather who escaped the Nazis and many more relatives who didn’t. This is to say that what Jackson shared was hurtful and harmful. He needs to address his actions, work towards making amends and hopefully let this be a teaching moment. Cutting him, right now, sends all the wrong sorts of messages.
We are at a tense moment in history. Protests against police violence and larger systemic racism have swept the nation since May. We are currently in the middle of one of the largest mass protests in American history. Amidst all this, many people are digging down and looking for answers about the world around us — a process that is messy and fraught with paths that lead nowhere or nowhere good. DeSean Jackson, at this point, looks to be in the middle of that process. Jackson has never let on in his 13-year career that he is a hateful or bigoted person, and I promise these things have a way of revealing themselves through patterns of actions. It is far more likely that in search of answers, Jackson found the wrong ones. Ones that spoke about the world in broad, conspiratorial strokes and spat out hateful ideas that have harmed Jewish people for hundreds of years.
Anti-Semitic hate crimes have been on a dramatic rise since 2016 and Jewish Bogeymen have re-entered the popular political imagination. These are no doubt scary times to be a Jewish person, especially in the United States. So, it is important that when this type of rhetoric is being shared around, it is addressed quickly.
In Jackson’s case, this seems more like a case of ignorance than someone who has hate in their heart for the Jewish people. While I can sympathize with the reaction to want him cut, the way Jackson’s ignorance is being portrayed rubs me the wrong way. Banner suggested that things would be discussed differently if a white player did something similar. Well, actually, the Patriots drafted a guy with a white supremacist tattoo. He was pressed on it for a week, he simply claimed ignorance to its meaning, said he would remove it, and everyone seemingly moved on. Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Nick Bosa has a history of bigoted social media interaction, but he chalked it up to ignorance and it has not stopped him from a high draft position or subsequent accolades.
Also, of course, there is the Riley Cooper-sized elephant in the room. Cooper, famously, screamed the n-word at a concert. It was blamed on ignorance and alcohol. Many voices in the media and team expressed that they thought it should be a teaching moment for Cooper. Months later, he got a lucrative extension with the team. So, to address what Banner suggested, the fact of the matter is that white players have quite publicly been called on bigoted actions and often face no repercussion beyond momentary embarrassment.
Some nuance and compassion needs to be had here. DeSean Jackson should not be let off the hook, nor should he be infantilized by saying he doesn’t know any better. Rather, Jackson needs to be spoken to head on and realize why what he said was harmful. DeSean Jackson is clearly feeling a lot of pain right now. Black people across the country are feeling a lot of pain. As a Jewish person, and someone who cares deeply about social justice, casting DeSean Jackson out of the discussion does not sit right with me. This is a person who obviously wants to use his platform to do some good.
It is important, when looking to make meaningful change, to recognize the good and bad faith of people around you. It changes the way you engage with them and can be helpful to parse out disagreements and, in this case, deal with the messiness of this extremely difficult national dialogue. Louis Farrakhan, unfortunately, is one of the most visible people speaking directly to black communities across the country. For whatever reason, he has a tremendous platform and resources he often uses to provide relief. He is occupying a vacuum in this conversation and there is no doubt the harm he causes not only to the groups he attacks, but also the harm he does to the ongoing fight for racial equality.
However, it’s not like DeSean Jackson sought out some fringe radical who has hateful ideas about Jewish people. Louis Farrakhan is a bad faith actor. No quest for social justice and racial equality needs his voice. But writing off the people Farrakhan speaks to is not a meaningful exercise, because he speaks to a lot of people and we need to change all sorts of hearts and minds in this discussion.
That includes DeSean Jackson. Jackson is not acting in bad faith. I believe and hope he will be open to the difficult and necessary discussion over the next few days. What rubs me the wrong way is Jackson being impulsively thrown out by a city that smeared him for where he grew up and heinously accused him of being a gang member to give cover to the team cutting him.
I can’t speak for every Jewish person. Nor do I want to. However, I know we are in a time of painful discussion and difficult realization. There is no linear path to some sort of perfect enlightenment on these issues. I want to give DeSean Jackson space to apologize, to grow and to learn on this issue so we can keep working towards greater equality for everyone.