It takes a lot of courage for someone to apologize — all the more so in the public eye. Antisemitism has been a hot topic in the news after Kanye West spoke out with a slew of negative statements about the Jewish people.
On Wednesday, Torrey Smith — former Baltimore Ravens player and two-time Super Bowl champion — referenced West’s recent antisemitic comments in a tweet. “Kanye never got canceled for saying all of the wild things he said about black folks because there aren’t many black people in powerful positions,” he wrote. “He literally offended a group of people that do have power and influence in every space.”
Shortly following, Orthodox Jewish Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer responded courageously himself and ultimately had a phone conversation with Smith about the harmful impact that such statements have on the Jewish community. Schleifer said in an interview that the phone call with Smith allowed both men to share how their backgrounds informed their perspectives.
Among other things, he told Smith that FBI crime data shows that more than 50% of religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. were committed against Jews in 2020, despite Jews making up just over 2% of the population. He also warned against the rippling impacts of hate speech on social media – particularly by those with large followings – which might inspire copycat comments and acts of violence. Such comments are not only offensive but dangerous.
Although he’d said in a video Wednesday night that he would not apologize, Smith issued an apology Thursday afternoon on Twitter following his conversation with Schleifer. “After talking to some of my friends and members of the Jewish community, I would like to apologize for the hurt that some people have experienced from my tweet,” he wrote. “I was speaking strictly about representation but recognize that my point falls in line with an antisemitic trope. I know what that means for the Jewish community during this time.” Smith said he can be stubborn when it comes to saying sorry, but that he considers himself an ally to the Jewish community. “The African American and Jewish community are more linked together in their struggles than anything else.”
“Twitter is not real life. A lot gets lost when you’re having conversations on Twitter,” Schleifer explained, emphasizing the need to have open conversations about this issue on other platforms (and best in person). His conversation with Smith allowed them to share how their backgrounds informed their perspectives. “His willingness to apologize and learn from the mistake should really be the message that we take away,” Schleifer said. Schleifer also acknowledges that having high-profile allies in this environment is very helpful in spreading awareness on a wider scale, and particularly emphasizes Smith’s respect in the Baltimore community and personal value of inclusion. “You have someone who’s a Super Bowl-winning football player and a large celebrity in our city who is willing to take the time to listen to what a local person has to say about how something has impacted them and their community.”
When asked about whether he believed his statements played into antisemitic tropes, Smith said, “My intentions no. But the people who were impacted said yes, so yes it does. […] When you put a target on especially the Jewish community that can be dangerous. Through dialogue and conversations you can learn that.”