Editorial: The Imprint of Our Definition - A Recent Example of the Impact from Social Media Platforms
By Richard Gaw
But I’ll know my song
well before I start singin’.
~Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
The unlikeliest of teachers taught a valuable lesson last week.
From the time DeSean Jackson, a wide receiver from Cal-Berkeley, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, his ability on the football field was demonstrated by his willingness to catch the most difficult passes thrown his way, and by the speed he displays in leaving his opponents tasting the dust left by his cleats. Injuries aside, his professional career has been marked by consistent dependability and occasional brilliance. During his first tenure with the hometown Eagles, Jackson was a human highlight reel of spectacular catches and game-ending runs, and after a few seasons spent in Tampa Bay and Washington, D.C. the star he cultivated years ago has been polished again in the color of Midnight Green. He is again an Eagle. He is again one of us.
Such accolades become the wood that builds platforms, and during the July 4 weekend, Jackson misused that platform to such an appalling measure that the repercussions of his action are likely to taint the remainder of his career. In an Instagram post he sent to his 1.4 million followers, Jackson posted a single page from a book that showed a quote –allegedly from Adolf Hitler – that read “the white Jews knows that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel,” and that Jewish people “will extort America.” As a final splash of salt to the wound, the quote said that of the Jewish people, “their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.”
Jackson took his online antics a step further the next day, when he posted an image of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, long considered one of the world’s largest peddlers of anti Semitic sentiment.
Jackson called Farrakhan “powerful.”
As a new week began, Jackson began a ridiculous back-stepping dance in an effort to toss distance between himself and his comments. His purpose, he said in a statement, was to uplift, unite and encourage our culture with positivity and light. “Anyone who feels I have hate towards the Jewish community took my post the wrong way,” he posted. “I have no hatred in my heart towards no one!! Equality Equality.”
Jackson is not the only professional athlete who has wrecked the support beams of his platform; his comments are merely the latest red meat offering for dissection and disdain. Consider the racist undertones that came out of the mouth of Jackson’s former teammate Riley Cooper, who is white, when he was caught on tape using the ‘N’ word while attending at a concert at Lincoln Financial Field. Rather than absorb a large fine from his employer like Jackson did, Cooper was promptly awarded a contract extension after his action.
While the words – both written and spoken – of our professional athletes are examined under the microscope of public opinion and severe scrutiny, they are different from the rest of us only in the way that their spotlight shines brighter. The rest of us do not have 1.4 million followers. What we share with Jackson, however, is that through the power of social media, tacked on to the freedoms contained in the First Amendment, each of us is given the license to share our individual voice.
In the Age of the Pandemic – in the Time of Social Unrest – in the wake of a daily tweet storm cloud from the halls of the White House -- 2020 has been the most powerful year for our accumulative voices, and it continues to be played out like a long narrative on social media.
This is a tremendous responsibility to carry, and while most of our words have been well chosen, some seem to arrive without any form of internal vetting, scrawled like word addicts searching for a dopamine hit that comes when the rage of emotion meets the immediacy of seeing the message on a computer screen.
There they are, beside the cat videos. Individual attacks rather than civil discourse. Knee-jerk entries meant to provoke rather than educate. Regardless of their intentions, these messages form our truth as individuals and as a nation, and every word we write is plastered permanently on us like the imprint of our definition.
If we are truly committed to the cause of creating a better society, we must be persistent but decent. We must never abuse the giant medium that allows us to share our message.
We must communicate our thoughts, feelings and emotions as if a small child is peering over our shoulder as we write.
We must, as DeSean Jackson recently taught us, think before we react, because the repercussions of our failure to do so could eventually topple our right to do so.