Duke student coaching assistant speaks out after his favorite NFL player's anti-Semitic tweet

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Friday, July 10, 2020
Duke football student assistant coach speaks out against anti-Semitism
When Charlie Gelman saw DeSean Jackson post an anti-Semtiic quote falsely attributed to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, he was shocked.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Charlie Gelman grew up a huge Eagles fan, watching hundreds of games with his dad by his side. One of his favorite players is DeSean Jackson, the star wide receiver. He even included a picture of himself wearing Jackson's jersey on his Bar Mitzvah invitation.

So, when he saw Jackson post an anti-Semitic quote falsely attributed to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, he was shocked.

"It was heartbreaking," said Gelman, who serves as a student assistant football coach for Duke, as well as an advanced statistical analyst for the school's wrestling program.

Gelman said he was encouraged by the response to George Floyd's death and has publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement. It's in part why he was so upset to see a lack of response from many athletes following Jackson's post; on the contrary, Jackson actually received support.

"People say stupid things all the time, and sometimes you have to take the chance to learn. And I figured right now we all need to take a stance against hate. And I thought many people in the NFL community had, and I applaud them all for that.

"So, I thought they would take an overall stand on something as simple as saying 'Hitler was not right,' and that would not be a very hard thing to say. I think over the next day or so, as I continued to not read anything from people taking a stand, that was really what inspired me to write the letter," Gelman added, referring to his Twitter post about anti-Semitism.

In his post, he wrote:

Silence is violence.

We've all been saying this for months. It was easy to say when everyone else was saying it. It was easy to say when there wasn't any silence. Why can't you say this now?

I grew up an Eagles fan. My dad and I watched 254 straight games together. My favorite player was DeSean Jackson. My identity as an Eagles fan was arguably as prevalent as my identity as a member of the Jewish community. When I was sending invitations to my family and friends about my Bar Mitzvah, I took a picture of me reading the Torah. I was wearing a DeSean Jackson jersey in the picture.

In the recent days, I've seen this childhood (hero) cite a man who tried to wipe my people from the face of the Earth. I've seen this childhood hero argue that people were misinterpreting his message, which stated that Jews "will blackmail America" and "will extort America" to fulfill "their plan for world domination." His message also stated, "Hitler was right."

However, I saw the way the world reacted to George Floyd's death. I saw the way the world reacted to the Black Lives Matter movement. In those moments and in those struggles, while appalled by our history, I felt hope. I felt hope that this was a turning point. I felt hope that our world, which in recent years have shot up synagogues in hopes of erasing my people, was different. I felt hope that our world had started to take a stand against hate. I felt hope that this situation would be included in this stand.

I was wrong. In the last two days, I've seen Stephen Jackson say that DeSean should not have apologized for "speaking the truth." I've seen this statement be supported by Marquise Goodwin, Alshon Jeffery, JR Smith, Kevin Durant, and countless other sports figures.

I have not seen current NFL players condemn antisemitism. I have not seen members of the NFL community who were quick to condemn Drew Brees even acknowledge DeSean Jackson posting that Hitler was right. I have not seen the players I looked up to look out for me.

I've seen Stephen Jackson argue that by fighting antisemitism you derail the Black Lives Matter movement by writing, "Your races' pain doesn't hurt more than the next races 'pain. Don't act like your hardships (are) more devastating (than) ours." I ask Stephen, when you hear a joke, do you not laugh because there are funnier jokes out there? We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can fight for our black community while fighting antisemitism. Fighting for one cause does not weaken the other. In fact, an overall stand against hate only strengthens your fight.

In my experience at Duke, I've had the opportunity to interact with many people from the black community, especially in my experience on the Duke Football and Wrestling teams. I've been lucky to learn about their histories and experiences, and these lessons have shaped me into who I am now. These people and their lessons made it easy for me to say, Black Lives Matter.

This is why it's disheartening that the industry I will hopefully spend the rest of my life (in) will not defend my people in the same way. The industry will not care enough that my family escaped Russia during the Pogroms, a series of massacres that killed thousands of Jews. The industry will not care that when I was in Pittsburgh for our football game, in the same city, there was a man who killed my people in their place of worship. The industry will not care that a few weeks later, on my own college campus, there was a swastika painted.

This is why it's disheartening reading people defending DeSean Jackson's comments. Could DeSean actually have been ignorant about how evil Hitler was? It is possible that DeSean did not realize what he was saying? No. DeSean is a 33-year-old man that was educated at Berkeley. To argue either of these is either implicitly racist, or at the very least, not anti-racist.

If you want to be anti-racist, you need to be against racism. You must call out racism in any manner in which it may appear. It may appear in the mouths of your friends and family. It may appear on social media. It may appear as antisemitism. You must call it out no matter what.

To those of you who have chosen not to speak out, I hear you. Your silence is deafening.

Gelman said he has received tremendous support both online and from members of the Duke football team.

"It really meant a lot to me because I went out on a limb here saying that we need to take a stand against this other thing. And I even told them I felt a little bit selfish doing so. And they said, no you were right. We need to hold everyone accountable," Gelman said.

He is hopeful Jackson and other players can use this experience to better themselves.

"I want to see accountability, but that does not mean that I want the Eagles to release DeSean Jackson. I've seen a lot of people say that. And I want to see DeSean Jackson learn, I want to see players in the NFL learn, because this is a learning opportunity. This is a trying time for everyone," Gelman said.

After initially defending his post, Jackson deleted it and issued an apology. The Eagles released a statement condemning Jackson's post, but have not issued any punishment.

Few players have spoken publicly on the matter, a list that does include Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, Chiefs offensive lineman Mitchell Schwartz, and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Zach Banner.