In 1979, as a 20-something college student in the Midwest and an avid football fan, the power and impact of Coke’s Mean Joe Green TV ad knocked me over. If you haven’t seen it, stop now and take a look (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xffOCZYX6F8).
The ad shows a young white boy looking up to a black man in awe and admiration. Deep in my gut, I felt it right away. This ad was evidence that the racial dynamic between white and black Americans was in the midst of a positive transition. Not only were white Americans feeling a sense of respect for black men, but they were happy when their children felt the same way.
The memory of that moment came back to me this past week: the anniversary of the horrific murders of 11 senior citizens, Jewish worshippers (eight men, three women) at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
You see, Mean Joe Green played for middle America’s Pittsburgh Steelers. As I read and re-read articles about that cold blooded massacre by a white supremacist bigot, I was reminded about how the Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins responded to the desecration of life and decency that took place on their home turf.
In addition to observing moments of silence before that week’s games, each team found a way to integrate the Jewish Star of David into their team’s logos. (See the logos here: https://twitter.com/ShadowLeague/status/1056548654633414656?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1056548654633414656&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fforward.com%2Ffast-forward%2F413163%2Fpittsburghs-penguin-pete-meets-a-jewish-star-in-logo-for-shooting%2F.)
In one Associated Press article (https://wjla.com/sports/content/design-based-on-steelers-helmet-honors-synagogue-victims), we see two very young Steelers fans smiling, one wearing the special Star of David logo on his jersey.
While these boys could be Jewish (Jews, after all, come in all shapes and colors), I doubt they are. What seemed profound and meaningful to me was that the adults in these boys’ lives were making a statement; it is right, good and necessary, here and now, for us to identify with our Jewish neighbors. I am proud that my team and my children are wearing Jewish stars.
Frankly, I don’t care if someone is a bigot in any of its malignant forms as long as he or she keeps these projections of inferiority, insecurity, and personal failure to himself or herself. This is America. Bigots are free to wallow in their own toxic filth.
It does, though, become my business and the business of all who care about civilized society if a diseased soul decides to express bigotry in word, deed, or through the cowardly anonymity of social media.
Because proponents of civilized society know this is possible, a tool box of responses has been established. That’s why good people support law enforcement, courts of law, and agree that there are times when incarceration is necessary.
That’s also why, like the pounding flood waters of Noah, good people show up en masse to overwhelm and overpower the evil of bigotry when it shows up in their midst.
To the leadership of the Steelers, Penguins, and so many others, including Mean Joe Green, thank you for representing good in the face of evil. Thank you for not hesitating to shout loudly and proudly that you are on the side of civilized society.
(Editor’s note: The author of this commentary is writing under a pseudonym.)