In September, Jackson Frank got a job covering the Philadelphia 76ers for PhillyVoice.com. For the longtime basketball blogger, it was a potential career launching point.
Frank, a 2020 graduate of Gonzaga University, had written about Gonzaga men’s basketball, the NBA Draft and other basketball topics for The Athletic, SB Nation and Dime UPROXX. He had more than 35,000 Twitter, or X, followers.
Now, he would get to write about NBA MVP Joel Embiid, disgruntled star James Harden and the rest of the Sixers full time. Frank covered the team’s preseason game against the Boston Celtics on Oct. 8.
But earlier that day, he quote-tweeted a post from the Sixers’ official account.
“We stand with the people of Israel and join them in mourning the hundreds of innocent lives lost to terrorism at the hands of Hamas,” the Sixers said.
“This post sucks. Solidarity with Palestine always,” Frank responded.
Two days earlier, Hamas attacked Israel’s southern region. Hundreds of Israelis died. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war.
After completing his coverage of the preseason game on Oct. 8, Frank saw an email from his editor asking if he had sent that tweet. He said that he had but that he did not want it to become a problem for his editors. He apologized.
The next morning, Frank had a text from PhillyVoice CEO Hal Donnelly asking him to call.
“He said they were terminating my contract because I was in violation of it,” Frank said.
“Mr. Frank is no longer employed by PhillyVoice.com as of today,” Donnelly wrote to the Jewish Exponent on Oct. 11. “We stand with everyone who is absolutely outraged by the senseless attacks in Israel, by the loss of innocent lives and violence against civilians.”
Frank discussed why he sent the (since-deleted) tweet.
How did you grow to love basketball and start writing about it? And how did you develop your pro-Palestine politics?
I played basketball, soccer, track and baseball. I wasn’t particularly good at anything but track and basketball. Then I majored in journalism at Gonzaga and fell in love with sports writing my freshman year. I tried to walk onto the cross-country team, but it didn’t work.
I came home that summer and there was nothing to write about. So, I googled NBA blogs and found FanSided and a Sixers blog. I did it all summer. It was Joel Embiid’s rookie year, and I just really enjoyed his game.
The next year, I got involved with NBA Draft coverage and found a community on Twitter through it. I started to build an audience with my basketball analysis and opinions. My senior year, I was a freelancer for The Athletic. I was like their Gonzaga correspondent. Then I was a full-time freelancer.
Growing up I don’t think I was politicized. I followed what my parents said. But my senior year was the 2020 election cycle, so I started having more opinions. I got behind Bernie Sanders. I found myself reading stuff that opened my eyes. Articles on Twitter.
I was not just consuming the media I’d consumed all my life. CNN, MSNBC, the stuff you see when you grow up in a place like Portland (Oregon).
I felt myself strongly believing in the Palestine side of things.
A lot of it was during quarantine when there wasn’t much to do.
Let’s talk about what happened here. What made you want to make such a public response? What did you feel it would accomplish?
They were not the first nor the last sports organization to release a statement. I disagree with those posts. I felt a call to criticize the team I cover. It’s a prominent world event and I felt it was important to me to address where I stood.
For me, what a lot of these organizations are doing by selectively involving themselves in a geopolitical affair is they are implicitly saying the lives and safety and autonomy of Israelis is more important than Palestinians. There’s never been any statement condemning what Israel is doing in Gaza or the lives lost.
Did you think you might get fired for it?
As the replies started to come in and people were tagging Philly Voice and they were emailing the sports department, I thought I might have a problem. I didn’t delete the tweet because I don’t stand by my comments. I was just trying to not involve my bosses and editors. And I was getting a good amount of harassment.
People were tagging PhillyVoice saying I needed to be deplatformed. Someone said, ‘He’s a threat to safety of the Jewish community in Philadelphia.’
Antisemitism is a huge issue domestically and globally. I think Jews deserve a state to feel safe.
How did you feel after?
I was distraught. I had just moved out to Philadelphia. Cross country. I was stressed about how I would make a living moving forward. I talked to my dad for a while.
You’ve started a Patreon to write about the NBA. Is that your next move?
I’m going to do that for at least a little bit. I do have some job prospects. The NBA starts in a little over two weeks. I’m trying to figure stuff out.
Was it worth it?
I’m disappointed to have lost my job. But I think if my opinion on this matter is so starkly different from the figureheads of Philly Voice then ultimately, it’s probably for the best.
I’m proud that I stood by my values. If it caused me some financial distress in the short term, so be it.
I know basketball’s still going to be there. People can’t stop me from writing about the NBA. This sort of conflict is more important than any access to a team or a league.
The answer to that I’m sure will evolve. But to be succinct: Yes, it was worth it.