Which of the following is more offensive—supporting the flag of the United States or posting an antisemitic quote attributed to Adolf Hilter? Any normal person would agree that blatant antisemitism and a quote from Hitler is leagues worse than a tame expression of patriotism. Unless you’re in the NFL, that is.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees came under fire for declaring his disagreement with kneeling during the national anthem, claiming it disrespected the flag. Brees was quickly labeled a racist, with no benefit of the doubt. Even when Brees apologized several times, his teammates and competitors have refused absolution. Brees received some support from conservatives pre-apology, but the NFL and pop culture has been largely against him.
When Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson took to social media to post antisemitic quotes in support of Black Lives Matter, he was defended by peers. Not only was the quote offensive in promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories, he also credited Adolf Hitler (though the quote did not actually belong to the genocidal dictator).
Jackson ultimately sort-of apologized on Instagram, conceding his words were merely ill-phrased and twisted by others, claiming he was unclear about the quote’s actual meaning, despite an apparent comfort with posting Hitler quotes praisingly.
The aforementioned quote details a conspiracy by Jewish Americans to oppress Black Americans in a world-domination effort. It was not posted in an effort to highlight its obvious awfulness, but to make a point about black oppression in America, agreeing with the sentiment.
Along with that quote, Jackson shared videos and quotes from Louis Farrakhan, leader of the notoriously antisemitic Nation of Islam.
DeSean Jackson has been promoting anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan on his Instagram page.
He hasen't trended for even second today.
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) July 7, 2020
Shocking Support for Jackson
Jackson, shockingly, was not treated with the same vitriol that Brees experienced. Former NBA player Stephen Jackson said the Eagles player was “speaking the truth” and should not apologize in a now-deleted Instagram video, for which he later apologized. He also argued that the aggressively antisemitic posts had “nothing to do with antisemitism.”
Malcolm Jenkins, the Saints safety who tearfully rebuked Brees’s comments, decried the debate surrounding Jackson’s comments, calling it “a distraction,” and stating that the issue does not matter.
Eagles player Malik Jackson likewise supported his teammate. His now-deleted Instagram comment, of which screenshots were saved, called Farrakhan “honorable” and defended the posting of the quote as invoking “thought and conversation.”
#Eagles DT Malik Jackson lashed out on a fan to defend Louis Farrakhan, who he calls “honorable.” Farrakhan is considered one of the most notorious anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT, & anti-white speakers in the world according to @ADL. Farrakhan has called Jews “termites” and “satanic.” pic.twitter.com/4lWSr0cgKs
— Eagles Nation (@PHLEaglesNation) July 9, 2020
Likewise, the criticisms of Jackson were substantially more magnanimous than those faced by Brees. Emmanuel Acho, linebacker turned analyst, called for Jackson to be forgiven for his comments, as cancel culture helps no one. While I agree with the sentiments, and wildly disapprove of cancel culture, Brees has not received such support. Steelers offensive tackle Zach Banner likewise referred to Jackson’s comment as a “mistake.”
Some Criticism For The Antisemitic Posts
It is important to note that not everyone has supported Jackson’s comments. The NFL came out with a statement criticizing his words, stating “DeSean’s comments were highly inappropriate, offensive and divisive and stand in stark contrast to the NFL’s values of respect, equality and inclusion. We have been in contact with the team which is addressing the matter with DeSean.”
While the NFL did not directly release a statement about Brees’s comments, just days after he made them, they posted a statement from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, along with a video, in which he declares that the NFL was “wrong” for not listening to their players concerns and protests.
— NFL (@NFL) May 30, 2020
The Eagles, likewise, released the following statement rebuking Jackson’s comments:
“We have spoken with DeSean Jackson about his social media posts. Regardless of his intentions, the messages he shared were offensive, harmful, and absolutely appalling. They have no place in our society, and are not condoned or supported in any way by the organization. We are disappointed and we reiterated to DeSean the importance of not only apologizing, but also using his platform to take action to promote unity, equality, and respect. We are continuing to evaluate the circumstances and will take appropriate action. We take these matters very seriously and are committed to continuing to have productive and meaningful conversations with DeSean, as well as all of our players and staff, in order to educate, learn, and grow.”
Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon, ESPN commentators, criticized not just DeSean Jackson’s comments, but also Stephen Jackson’s support. Both had historically praised Stephen Jackson’s activism for Black Lives Matter. Wilbon responded to the comments, saying, “He has no credibility now, he has undermined all his previous good work with this garbage.”
Glaring Double Standard
There is a glaring double standard applied to Brees and Jackson, as the severity of their offenses is directly inverse to their respective punishments.
Jackson’s Instagram post was unambiguously awful. Not only was the antisemitism in the quote blatant, but Jackson quoted Hitler (or so he thought) praisingly. When Hitler comparisons are so often defaults in arguments that attempt to paint one side as so overwhelmingly evil that no argument can compare, it is jarring to see his words being used to support a position.
Aside from the purported speaker, the quote itself is virulently racist, engaging in harmful conspiracy theories and pushing a dangerous us-versus-them mentality.
Brees, by contrast, merely stated that he disagreed with kneeling during the anthem. That’s it. He did not criticize people’s desire to protest, or the causes for their protest. He simply disagreed with one form, due to his love of country.
Yet it is Brees who faced teammates posting tearful videos to social media, claiming he showed his true colors to the world. Jackson, meanwhile, has fellow athletes attempting to contextualize his behavior.
Are we really living in a time when anything in favor of Black Lives Matter is justified, while anything remotely criticizing the organization or their tactics is inherently immoral? There is no comparison between their actions. Brees politely discussed distaste for a form of protest. Jackson actively spread hateful rhetoric.
What appears to determine acceptable speech is its target, as some groups and messages are above criticism. The disparate treatment of Desean Jackson and Drew Brees implies that quoting Hitler and promoting antisemitism is “a mistake” but supporting the flag is harmful and hateful.