I was out to dinner on Monday evening when the bolded headlines of "Ryan Braun Suspended for the Remainder of the 2013 Season" flashed across the screens lining the restaurant. As a Chicago Cubs fan, it is always a bit of a relief when a scandal surrounds one of your greatest rival teams, even when the Brewers (even more so than the Cubs) need a greater miracle than the story of Chanukah to turn their seasons around. However, as an avid baseball fan in general and a young Jew, this headline is far from ideal.
For anyone who isn't familiar with this story, Braun, who is the left fielder to the Milwaukee Brewers, has been considered a star in Major League Baseball for the past few years. Listed amongst the 50 greatest current players according to Sporting News, he won Most Valuable Player in the National League in 2011, which is also when accusations of Braun using performance enhancing drugs began. Additionally, Braun, who is nicknamed the "Hebrew Hammer," was born to a Jewish father and Catholic mother. He has publically voiced that he considers himself a Jew and even a role model to Jewish children. This past Monday, the scandal that began in 2011 was brought back to the forefront of sports news when Braun was suspended without pay for the remainder of the season, due to the confirmed use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In the article "Ryan Braun's Jewish Disgrace" (sidenote: I would've probably chosen a different title because this doesn't really help our case), the writers explains, "we all cheered when Braun was on top of the baseball world. He is a poster boy, along with Shawn Green, Kevin Youkilis, and Ian Kinsler, of a Jewish baseball renaissance over the past decade or so. Indeed, it's arguably been the greatest time for Jewish Major Leaguers since the period between the 1930s and the mid-1950s, when Hank Greenberg, Harry Danning, Al Rosen, and Sid Gordon starred on the diamond."
It is disappointing as a Jewish sports fan. It is disappointing as a fan of Jews in sports. It is, quite frankly, disappointing as a sports fan and as a human being.
Although the number of incidents surrounding performance enhancing drugs are countless in Major League Baseball, the second I saw this news, I knew it was inevitable that people would make this an issue of religion and anti-Semitism rather than what is: an issue of character, morals and judgment.
The next morning at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Midwest Office where I work, one of the members of our young leadership group forwarded me an article from the Huffington Post and wrote, "This country has its share of some really sick people." The piece outlined a slew of the top ten most anti-Semitic tweets about the incident. From saying that his ancestors taught him well to comparing him to Bernie Madoff to characterizing him with Jewish stereotypes such as being horrible at sports, being sneaky, cheating, etc., these tweets were a crystal-clear display of some sort of anti-Semitism being expressed on the Internet.
After reading the article, I was disgusted, but unfortunately very far from surprised. Upon further research (okay it wasn't that fancy, I just typed "Ryan Braun Jew(ish)" into the Twitter search bar), I found countless Tweets that used racial slurs, inserted "#Jew" after quite offensive remarks, and blatantly expressed anti-Semitic views such as "Ryan Braun is a Jew…what do you expect."
Then, I saw a Tweet that said something along the lines of how Jews were "too sensitive," which was as, if not more, disheartening than the offensive Tweets.
I know not every Jewish joke or pun is meant to be anti-Semitic. The thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook who posted that he was "Jew-cing" (spoiler alert: if your so-called pun is trending, it's not that original) probably didn't have the same intentions as, for example, the Hitler parody account (I can't even believe I have to refer to it as that because it's revolting that it even exists) that unsurprisingly mentioned the incident. It is hard to find the divide between blatant anti-Semitism and people just acknowledging a fact (he is Jewish), but with that being said, the reaction to apparent anti-Semitism is far from an overreaction.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center's mission, amongst many essential undertakings, is to combat anti-Semitism. With an incident such as this at the forefront of news media, it makes me grateful that I work for an organization that strives to teach tolerance on a global scale. Unfortunately, about every week (if not more), some issue that is filled with hate is brought to my attention, usually forwarded to me from an Op-Ed from someone from Wiesenthal or a press release from the center. It is mindboggling how in the 21st Century these problems of our past are still so apparent.
I have heard the anecdote that "business is good right now" for organizations such as the one that I work for—I think I work in one of the only professions where this is the opposite of what you want to hear. When I see American young adults, probably close to my own age, expressing hatred that is assumingly backed by a lack of education as well as intolerance and prejudice, I am thrilled at the greater good that the work I do ultimately goes toward. Whether I am planning a fundraising event, working on spreading educational programming throughout Chicago, or even organizing an expense report, it is going towards a great goal. The reality is, as sad as it is to say, anti-Semitism is alive and well and I truly hope in years to come that the demand for posts such as these will fade away. Until then, I'm back to work.