The big news story in sports this week, even overshadowing plans for the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball to get their seasons back on track, has been in Washington. But the most important one started in Philadelphia.
In Washington, pressured by sponsors and advertisers, including FedEx, the holder of naming rights to the team’s stadium, Dan Snyder finally caved this week to pressure to rename his NFL team. Away go the Redskins — a truly disparaging name that in no way “honored” Native Americans, as Snyder has ridiculously claimed for many years. The team will henceforth be known as … well, that hasn’t been announced yet, though speculation has it that Red Wolves or Warriors are among the leading contenders.
It’s shameful that it took the national outrage over the killing of George Floyd to push Snyder into making the change. And even now, we suspect, he wouldn’t be doing it if not for the economic threat. So cheers to those major companies for ramping up the pressure, though it’s fair to ask: What took so long? Surely FedEx knew in 1999 when it handed over gobs of cash to put its name on the stadium that Redskins was a racist term in every sense. It did so anyway.
So, barring Snyder choosing an equally insensitive name, at least one open racial wound has been closed in sports. But another has emerged to take its place, and it’s potentially a larger problem than one rich guy refusing to budge in the face of a changing society.
Last week, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted a quote on his Instagram account, which he attributed to Adolf Hitler (never a good start). It wasn’t actually from Hitler, but did espouse a conspiracy theory about a Jewish plan for world domination and blackmailing the United States. It also clearly pits Blacks against Jews. Jackson’s account is also full of plaudits for Louis Farrakhan, the longtime leader of the Nation of Islam.
Reports of the posts quickly brought unwanted attention to Jackson, who has since apologized and said: “I have nothing but love in my heart.” Jackson insists he meant nothing disparaging to Jews by his posts. Perhaps that’s true in his case, but it certainly isn’t for Farrakhan, whose history is filled with invective against Jews and gays.
The Nation of Islam is admired by many Black athletes and others as an organization that empowers Blacks. To some, however, it’s every bit as racist as the KKK in opposing equality, except that it espouses Black racial superiority rather than white.
While Jackson has denied sharing Farrakhan’s divisive views, he has still professed admiration for the man. So have more than a handful of other Black celebrities, mainly in the NBA and NFL. Called out on their support for Farrakhan and his views, others — NBA commentator Stephen Jackson, rapper Ice Cube, NFL player Malcolm Jenkins, TV host Nick Cannon — either parsed their previous comments to deny they had any anti-Semitic intent or simply said that part of the message doesn’t matter; it’s all about Black empowerment.
The inherent hypocrisy of that stance has been noticed. No less a star than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the former Lew Alcindor, who converted to Islam as a collegian and who sat out the 1968 Olympic Games to protest the treatment of Blacks in America — expressed his disappointment at the lack of outrage in the sporting world over the blatant anti-Semitism being expressed.
For all the good that can come of the Black Lives Matter movement, it won’t mean a thing if, for too many, the message that resonates is that to lift one people up, you must tear another down.
If one thing has been made clear during the protests and discussions over social justice recently, it’s that our nation, even as it has succeeded wildly in many ways, has historically failed to live up to the ideals upon which it was based. Notably, the proposition that “all men are created equal” has meant mainly wealthy, white, straight men — often excluding women, Blacks, Jews, Asians, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.
Those in power know the easiest way to remain in power is to keep those not in power at each others’ throats. Divide and conquer. That some members of a historically oppressed people would rather cast blame and hurl insults at another famously persecuted group rather than work with them to see that all are treated equitably is proof that we have a long way to go.
In this case, perhaps, life really is more about the destination than the journey.