The National Football League finds itself at the forefront of social engagement at a very delicate, complex pivot point in our nation’s history. The NFL’s focus ranges from acknowledging the relevance of the Black Lives Matter movement; to the omission of the inappropriate, now former, nickname of the Washington franchise; to the insensitive anti-Semitic social media post of Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver DeSean Jackson last week. As I consumed hours of media coverage highlighting his colossal mistake, my heart hurt for him, as well as for the entire Jewish community.
Because of my own previous transgression, I identified with the pain both would suffer. What price would Mr. Jackson pay for his egregious act?
My inadvertent offense was presented in a poor and clumsily stated analogy during an opening monologue in December 2018 on a local sports talk radio station in Atlanta. As a professional broadcaster, I have an inherent responsibility to ensure that my word usage is appropriate and non-offensive to listeners and advertisers, while also maintaining adequate corporate integrity. Albeit unintentional, I had violated the trust of all parties involved. Consequently, my employment was terminated.
Immediately, I issued a public apology and thus began an emotional journey to elevate my understanding of Jewish culture to higher levels; courtesy of much religious counsel and intent listening from members of their community. Equally impactful on this educational trek were literature and film. The words on those pages now spoke to me with a new and amplified intensity. The unforgettable imagery compelling me to see the world in an even more holistic light. I was reminded of the powerful partnership between Jewish and African-American citizens following World War II. The magnitude of this relationship culminated in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It is evident our cultures have more in common than we do differences. It was this pursuit for true understanding which revealed to me the root and gravity of my mishap. I had hurt the Jewish community by wrongly assuming it was permissible to use a horrid reference from Jewish ancestry to make what I believed to be an “academic” analogy. I would never view this moment in history the same ever again. I sincerely hope a similar conclusion will be reached by anyone who embraces a comparable or more extensive effort for the sake of clarity.
Very few of us in the sports world can relate to a circumstance like this. Nothing prepares you for the overwhelming level of sorrow, embarrassment, and mental anguish an error of this magnitude warrants. You work your entire life to be a standout in an extremely competitive field, and in one moment, the privilege you’ve earned can be taken away.
Thankfully, we currently reside in the midst of a national climate in which most of us are embracing empathy and seeking to truly understand one another. This dynamic has opened the door for education, counsel, reconciliation, and redemption.
I respect and applaud the decision by Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who is Jewish, to refrain from succumbing to the “cancel culture” mentality. Instead, Mr. Lurie is exemplifying what effective leadership should be in 2020 by using this egregious mistake to create a unifying teachable moment in hopes of impacting his team, the Philadelphia area, other franchises, millions of fans nationwide, and of course, DeSean. An opportunity for real dialogue has presented itself. New relationships have been forged. Pledges to move forward together offered up. Personal growth lies on the horizon.
Hope in humanity has never been more real in these United States.
Stan Norfleet (@stansportsman) is a former linebacker and graduate of the University of Virginia and Texas Southern University. He has significant business development experience in the NBA, MLB, NHL, SEC, SWAC, and the NFL and spent a brief time in scouting for Washington’s NFL franchise. Most recently, he could be seen and heard as a national television football analyst for the ACC, as well as a radio host in Charlotte and Atlanta.