NFL Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman Ron Mix, the keynote speaker at a daylong seminar here next week on sports and anti-Semitism, says he’s taking part not because he experienced anti-Jewish prejudice during his standout years in college and the pros, but because he didn’t.
Mix, who played 11 seasons in the NFL, most with the San Diego Chargers, will speak during “Anti-Semitism and Sports: Global Symposium on Sports and Society” at Fordham University’s McGinley Campus Center in the Bronx on Sept. 25. He will be part of an A-list lineup of men and women from the worlds of athletics, business, journalism and academia — including sports agent Leigh Steinberg, sports reporter Barry Wilner and Anti-Defamation League Deputy National Director Ken Jacobson — who will discuss the growing incidence of anti-Semitism in the sports world, particularly in European soccer, and sports authorities’ responsibilities in countering it.
The conference, sponsored by Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies in conjunction with the Final Whistle on Hate campaign of the Chelsea soccer team (England) and of the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer (United States), is the first-known intensive seminar on the topic. It’s aimed at young people, who often grow up with successful athletes as role models, and at the sports establishment, which is responsible for tackling the prejudice that has become common among some sports fans, says Anthony Davidson, dean of the School of Professional and Continuing Studies.
Rola Brentlin, who leads the Chelsea soccer team’s “Say No to Anti-Semitism” campaign in conjunction with the World Jewish Congress, says the purpose of such initiatives is to “use the power of sports to raise awareness of issues” of bias.
Next week’s event grew out of a meeting between Davidson and Brentlin. Davidson, “a proud, kipa-wearing Orthodox Jew” and son of a Holocaust survivor, grew up in England, where he frequently encountered anti-Semitism in soccer settings.
The Chelsea campaign was begun by Roman Abramovich, the team’s Russian-Israeli owner, who earlier this year partnered with Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Revolution, to sponsor an exhibition game that raised $4 million for 15 anti-bias programs.
Kraft, who also owns the NFL New England Patriots, was awarded the $1 million 2019 Genesis Prize (aka the “Jewish Nobel”), which he said he would use to fight anti-Semitism.
Mix, whose Russian émigré father’s original name was Rabinowitz, said he’ll focus his speech next week on support for Israel; he aims to reach people who may not like Jews but respect Israel’s strength as “a warrior nation,” he told The Jewish Week.
He has a long record of opposing prejudice. While with the Chargers, he was the first white player in the 1965 AFL All-Star game in New Orleans to inform coaches that he would not play in the game, in solidarity with their black teammates who could not obtain taxis or admittance to segregated restaurants; the game was moved to Houston, and New Orleans soon desegregated.
Four decades later, Mix, who became a lawyer after his playing career ended, wrote an essay for ESPN.com in which he defended gays in sports, after his daughter came out as a lesbian.
Citing a lone incident of anti-Semitism in college, he said he found sports to be the great equalizer and stereotype-breaker during his playing days at the University of Southern California and in the NFL. He and teammate Willie Wood, an African-American who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers, were elected captains of their USC football team by their teammates.
Sports, he said, “is the perfect means to bring races and religions together.”