Romeo Okwara
Romeo Okwara (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

One local sports figure has gotten it right, and we should applaud his stance.

Social media has made it simple to make one’s thoughts known. With a digital platform and a few keystrokes, anyone can disseminate their viewpoint, regardless of tone, facts or accuracy. The truth is, on social media, there are very few arbiters of truth. But we must insist on veracity and we must call out hate — even when the sheer number of social media posts makes it seem like we are fighting a losing battle.

One local sports figure has gotten it right, and we should applaud his stance. On July 13, Detroit Lions Defensive End Romeo Okwara took on a fellow football player and Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan at the same time.

In case you missed it:

Over the past few weeks, a flurry of commentary and social media posts have surfaced regarding Farrakhan’s July 4 address marking the 90th anniversary of NOI. In the speech, Farrakhan referred to Jews collectively as “Satan” and the “enemy of God” and repeated the false claim that Jews are enjoined by their religion to “poison prophets” and that Jews had “broken their covenant relationship with God.” This rhetoric is sadly not unusual for Farrakhan. But that was just the beginning.

A number of Black celebrities and influencers — from Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson to TV host Nick Cannon — lauded Farrakhan’s speech and even doubled down when their comments were depicted as anti-Semitic. Jackson was fined by his team and Cannon was fired by Viacom CBS.

But Romeo Okwara showed he’s not afraid to take on fellow NFL players. His Instagram caption on the subject said:

“Anti-Semitic comments towards the Jewish community are and will always be completely unacceptable. As a fellow member of the NFL, I am incredibly embarrassed for the huge mistake DeSean Jackson made. We must all continue to educate ourselves and fight against ignorance and hatred of all types. As we fight for equality in the black community, we can’t step on the necks of another. It is important to speak up in times like these and I want to thank @zbnfl for his leadership on this very important matter. There is no place for hate in this world!”

At ADL, we couldn’t agree more. In fact, our K-12 school cultural framework is actually called “No Place For Hate,” and schools in the Metro Detroit area have used the platform to take control of the narrative to establish diverse and inclusive speech, actions and proactive school-wide programming.

I have often cited “Oppression Olympics” as a reason one minority will practice indifference toward another minority. We like to think we have the market cornered on oppressive history. But this is dangerous because none of us are safe until we are all safe. And let’s face it: Until we acknowledge it is wrong to act with indifference toward another marginalized group, we will continue to flounder as a human race.

Is there a way to separate fact from fiction on social media? And doesn’t every American have a right to say what is on their mind? The answer is yes and yes. But we must not excuse away our due diligence because of the fast-paced timing of Twitter or Instagram. Do your homework. Take time to actually know what a person stands for before you weigh in on a topic. Understand what you are putting forth before you hit send.

Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” It’s tough to write concisely; it often takes much longer to craft one sentence than it does to write a paragraph. But the power of a 280-character tweet can send shockwaves worldwide. And please remember: Celebrity status does not equal authority on a subject.

This is a time of unprecedented challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, and the murder of George Floyd has ignited passion for change in tens of thousands of people in our country. We must not waste this moment. We must actively pursue educating ourselves about our privilege, our diversity and our commonalities. And we must rally together against those — like Louis Farrakhan and the people who repeat his vile homophobic and anti-Semitic hatred — to ensure we stand up to hate of all marginalized groups, not just our own.

One final reflection about the evolution of thought: With all the “communication” swirling around our electronic devices and making its way into our heads, let us remember the act of forgiveness. If you sense contrition, at least accept the idea that people can change their minds about a topic. Both DeSean Jackson and Nick Cannon have apologized and have vowed to learn more. Will they? Only time will tell. But before we write them off, let us give them a chance for growth. We must help each other reach common understandings. And that goes for all of us.

Carolyn Normandin is the regional director of the Michigan ADL. To obtain No Place For Hate programming information, contact Michigan.adl.org.

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