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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, December 9, 2023

Sports and Society: The unfeeling Jaylen Brown


“The energy is about to shift” 

This is Jaylen Brown’s six-word masterpiece. The first half of the 2021–22 Celtics had failed, until then, to translate a talent rich roster — in year three of the Brown and Jayson Tatum nucleus that was theoretically a top front court in the NBA — into a winning formula. Yet, at 11:32 a.m. on Jan. 31, Brown managed to encapsulate the emotions of an entire sports culture in a simple statement of purpose. Their ensuing second half turnaround and NBA Finals trip saw Brown’s tweet ascend to genius status. The Celtics needed a change of pace, and Brown called their shot. 

Recently, Brown’s Twitter feed, still affixed with his statement of energetic conversion pinned at the top, has been full of trash. The worthless, poisonous and harmful blight of antisemitic toxins pollute his public persona, one that was once endeared with passionate leadership at the height of America’s George Floyd protests. Antisemitism is always abhorrent, yet Brown’s relationship to it transcends easily targeted archetypes and has enabled him to evade the general criticism he deserves. He certainly needs an energy shift or perhaps a new perspective altogether. 

Brown has for weeks toed an imaginary line of bigotry. He has directly condemned antisemitism in theory, yet spent innumerable characters on Twitter defending those unmistakably taking antisemitic positions, such as those from his former teammate Kyrie Irving and rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West. Yet Brown, to date, admits no wrongdoing, claims the moral high ground, and has spent weeks proving his theoretical tolerance is nothing but performative. 

The cycle of insanity Brown has operated in is exactly what makes the line he intends to walk a farce. First, he posts something — perhaps it’s a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, an antisemitic hate group, rallying in support of Irving, or maybe it’s a statement of support for Ye, showing Brown’s intention to remain with Donda Sports even after Ye’s antisemitic outbursts. He then subsequently claims he did not understand the context of his statements, before finally defending his right to free speech and berating cancel culture for its overreach. These pseudo-apologies are half-baked excuses for tangible hate speech and do not vindicate his exaltation of antisemitism. But Brown certainly seems to think they do.

Brown seems to believe, through a close reading of his highly nuanced and intellectual Instagram memes, that he is entitled to state his preferences for certain positions without issue, and any backlash he receives for defending antisemitism is akin to yelling at someone for preferring apples to oranges. As ridiculous as that sounds, downplaying the severity of hate speech is often the first line of defense intolerance hides behind.

Perhaps what’s worst is that Brown has proven, through weeks of nonsense, that he does not empathize with Jews who feel attacked from the ever encroaching jaws of antisemitism. Despite his history of antiracist activism, Brown seems utterly unable to feel for those who need him when he most needs to, just as he did when he declared the energy was on the verge of shifting.

Because what is special is not that the energy did, in fact, shift, but rather that Brown seemed to empathize with the Celtics faithful. He felt along with us, validating our disappointment along with our fanatical desperation to vindicate the Brown-Tatum experiment and to win something — anything — before it was too late, and he took responsibility for making it happen. It is precisely because I have felt Brown’s ability for supreme emotional understanding that I am disgusted with the path he has chosen to tweet.