Turning a blind eye: Anti-Semitism in sports deserves more attention


Greer Vermilye

Anti-Semitism in sports has been a prevalent problem since the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

By Danny Kotelanski

On July 6, Philadelphia Eagles player DeSean Jackson posted an anti-Semitic quote attributed to Adolf Hitler on his Instagram story, claiming that white Jews were stealing Black peoples’ identity as “true Israelites,” and that Jews have a plan for world domination. I was baffled. I tend to admire football players, but this post left me insulted. How could Jackson think such an offensive statement was acceptable to share? Why was he praising Hitler’s words? Was anyone going to speak out against him? 

Typically, when a celebrity says something discriminatory, the internet is quick to demand an explanation or “cancel” them; this wasn’t the case for Jackson’s post

I watched as my Jewish friends (and only my Jewish friends) reposted articles and tweets on social media, adding their own thoughts on the situation. I watched as the Eagles organization apologized for Jackson’s behavior, deeming his words “offensive, harmful, and absolutely appalling”. But I didn’t see any other professional athletes denounce his words; barely anyone associated with the NFL even commented on the situation. Only after the Eagles organization seemingly forced him to, Jackson finally posted his own apology. The next day the situation was for the most part ignored, as the sports community disregarded Jackson’s actions. It was like nothing ever happened.

Since the incident, Jackson has vowed to make concerted efforts to learn more about the Jewish community and make amends for his behavior, and I applaud him for that; but I am still a Jewish sports fan. His apology doesn’t erase his actions or the impact of his words. 

Throughout my life, I’ve often talked about anti-Semitism. I’ve witnessed Holocaust survivors describe their experiences in concentration camps; I’ve read stories about vandalized Jewish cemeteries in Europe; I’ve mourned the death of 11 Jews, brutally murdered by a white nationalist during a Saturday morning service at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. 

I’ve always understood the harsh reality of anti-Semitism in our world, and fortunately I’ve never felt targeted by such denegration. That was the case until I saw Jackson, someone who I looked up to, unabashedly attack my own religion. Though I felt hurt by Jackson’s post, the most devastating part was the lack of response from the sports community. Below Jackson’s apology, I didn’t see comments of condemnation. Instead, I read messages defending, even agreeing with his anti-Semitic remarks. This opened my eyes to the reality of anti-Semitism in the sports community, a community which I’ve been a part of for years.

 Anti-Semitism has existed in sports for decades. During the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, hosted during the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, other nations’ Olympic teams began banning Jews from their rosters prior to the event in order to appease the host country. Several Jewish athletes who were set to compete for Germany’s national team were expelled solely due to their religion. 

In 1965, star baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax sat out of Game 1 of the World Series to observe Yom Kippur. Koufax became a hero that day to his community, and remains an inspiration for young Jewish athletes today. Many non-Jewish baseball fans across the country criticized Koufax for what they believed was a poor excuse for an irrelevant holiday. It became just another reminder of the lack of respect and acceptance Jewish athletes face in the country. 

More recently, Jewish quarterback Josh Rosen called out his experiences with anti-Semtism in college football. Opponents targeted him on the field with derogatory phrases such as: “I’m gonna break your f—–ing nose, you Jew,” and “Stay the f—–  down, you Jewish bastard.”

We are amidst a turning point in the history of our country. Americans have already committed to fighting the systemic racism which plagues Black Americans. But as we become activists, we must not forget other marginalized groups, including Jewish Americans. Shrugging off anti-Semitism as a minor issue is what has allowed it to flourish. 

We are all in one fight together — a fight against hate and prejudice. The next time an anti-Semitic event surfaces on the news, please reach out to your Jewish friends and make an effort to support them. Use your social media platform to advocate against anti-Semitism even if you are not Jewish. It’s our job collectively as students, parents and teachers, to love everyone equally on and off the field, regardless of their religion.