The Education of DeSean Jackson

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ESPN’s SportsCenter was one of several media outlets that featured DeSean Jackson’s apology video. | Screenshot from ESPN YouTube

The longer David Adelman talked to DeSean Jackson via FaceTime, the more he realized that the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver understood why his Instagram post was so hurtful.

“You could see him feel worse and worse,” said Adelman, who chairs the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation and is the incoming co-chair of the board of directors of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Adelman and Jackson were brought together by mutual friend Michael Rubin, a Philadelphia 76ers co-owner, not long after Jackson created a firestorm by sharing anti-Semitic comments on Instagram on July 6. Those comments, wrongly attributed to Adolf Hitler, said “the Jews will blackmail America, the (sic) will extort America, their plan for World Domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.”

He followed that up with a post in which he lauded Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic July 4 speech.

Adelman — who told Jackson about his grandparents being in concentration camps — and Jackson have since spoken multiple times and the two plan a tour of the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza in the days ahead. The two also plan to tour The African American Museum in Philadelphia.

“He really appears to be sincere,” Adelman said, adding that he watched Jackson’s body language as the football player asked questions. “I thought it was well worth moving forward based on what he was saying and how he was saying it.”

Adelman said he didn’t know if Jackson actually was anti-Semitic or if he just forwarded ignorant comments in haste.

“I can’t speculate what’s in his head. At the moment, he just didn’t make the connection,” Adelman said. “He was focusing on trying to create an uplifting quote for the Black community.”

Adelman isn’t the only one trying to educate Jackson.

Rabbi Doniel Grodnitzky of Chabad Young Philly said he has spoken to Jackson as well, although he declined to share, for now, the content of that conversation.

And on July 11, Jackson had a Zoom conversation with Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg, 94, from Parsippany, New Jersey; Mosberg wore a concentration camp uniform during the call, JTA reported. Mosberg, who chairs a Holocaust commemoration group called From the Depths invited Jackson to visit Auschwitz with him — an invitation Jackson accepted.

Jackson also apparently spoke with New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is Jewish. Edelman tweeted on July 10 that “DeSean and I spoke for awhile last night. We’re making plans to use our experiences to educate one another and grow together. Stay tuned.”

Edelman has suggested they visit both the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

“We need to have these uncomfortable conversations if we’re going to have real change,” Edelman told ESPN.com.

Numerous organizations addressed Jackson’s remarks, including the Jewish Federation, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation and the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, which issued a joint statement.

“Although Mr. Jackson later posted that he ‘has no hate in his heart,’ his amplification of hate-filled messages sent a very different message. We commend the Eagles organization for speaking out forcefully against the posts and urging Mr. Jackson to apologize. We appreciate Mr. Jackson’s apology and his removal of the offensive posts, and we hope that he will take this opportunity to work with the Jewish community and become educated about how dangerous and pernicious anti-Semitism and all forms of hate are,” the statement read in part.

Both Adelman and Shira Goodman, regional director of the ADL in Philadelphia, said education is an important tactic in defusing anti-Semitism.

“We want to give people a second chance,” Goodman said, noting that Jackson’s platform as a well-known athlete potentially gives him a great deal of influence. “What he decides to do right can have a tremendous impact.”

People need to educate themselves and consider how their thoughts might be perceived before posting on social media, she said: “People in the public eye have a responsibility to be clear in what they’re saying.”

Eagles fans on social media have had mixed reactions, with some saying they would no longer support the team and others calling for Jackson to be cut.

The Eagles initially issued a statement denouncing Jackson, then followed up with a second statement explaining the actions they’d taken.

“Today we have penalized DeSean for conduct detrimental to the team,” the second statement read. “He accepted these consequences and apologized. In our many conversations with him, it has also been made clear that this is only the beginning. We have discussed a concrete plan for how we and he can heal moving forward. He understands that in order to remain on the team, he must also commit to supporting his words with actions. We have been encouraged by his desire to educate himself, but we all understand that there is still a lot of work to be done.”

The punishment includes an undisclosed fine, ESPN.com reported.

Neither team owner Jeffrey Lurie nor General Manager Howie Roseman have spoken publicly on the topic. The team turned down interview requests for both Lurie — whose production company announced last week, ironically enough, the completion of a documentary called “The Meaning of Hitler” — and Roseman, as well as Jackson.

Adelman said he knows “a lot of people in the community are not happy with me,” but feels his efforts are worthwhile. “If we can educate one person at a time, you put the country on a better path.”

Rabbi Moishe Brennan of Chabad of Penn Wynne said that, in general, Judaism does call for forgiveness, noting that the general concept is typically for asking for forgiveness from a single person or small group, not an entire religion.

In any case, Brennan said forgiveness is tied in with honesty.

“Do they realize why they’re wrong and make sure not to do it in the future?” he asked. “What was the reason for it and what needs to be changed?”

Typically, individuals are encouraged to grant forgiveness, especially after three requests to do so. At that point, even if forgiveness hasn’t been granted, the individual can move on, especially if they know they have changed for the better, Brennan said.

Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel on the Main Line in Merion Station gave a sermon last weekend entitled “The Teshuvah Was an Incomplete Pass.” He said the Eagles were at fault (this came before their second, more comprehensive statement) for not being unequivocal in condemning Jackson and Jackson was at fault after the fact for liking social media posts that suggested he shouldn’t have had to apologize.

But Yanoff said there was potentially great value in keeping Jackson on the team.
“A lot more is gained by keeping him close than kicking him out,” he said, adding that there have been encouraging signs — such as Jackson’s call with Mosberg — in recent days. “If this works, a lot of education can happen.”

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