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Despicable moment can be used to teach, learn

“This is not the first time Beachwood student-athletes have been subjected to antisemitic and racist speech. We always hope it will be the last.”

Those words from Superintendent Robert Hardis, who leads the approximately 90% Jewish Beachwood School District in Ohio, are a heartbreaking response to the behavior of Brooklyn (Ohio) High School football players who last week repeatedly used the word “Nazi” to call plays during a game against Beachwood. Then, when Beachwood threatened to pull their players from the field, the team stopped using that word to call plays, but several Brooklyn players continued to direct racial slurs at Beachwood players, according to a statement from Beachwood Schools.

Brooklyn head coach Tim McFarland did the right thing by stepping down. Brooklyn Schools Superintendent Ted Caleris said in a statement that McFarland “expresses his deepest regret” and that he and the school apologize for “hurtful and harmful speech” that will “not be tolerated.”

That is as it should be, but one is forced to wonder how much that kind of speech was not only tolerated but encouraged if students felt free to shout it on the football field. Yes, kids can be reckless and thoughtless. They also tend to mimic the behavior of those whose opinions they hold in high regard. Few of them go that far outside the bounds of common decency without having been given some reason to believe they will be supported in doing so, or will make an adult in their life proud.

Tel Aviv University’s Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry and the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League conducted a study that showed antisemitism is increasing significantly in the U.S. That may help us understand why some politicians are desperate to keep our students from learning all of history. And that lack of a thorough education on the matter may help us understand why students are willing to behave so hatefully in public. They are part of the disturbing number who have been misled into thinking their worst instincts are to be celebrated — and demonstrated.

Caleris says Brooklyn High School has been contacted by the Anti-Defamation League of Ohio, and hopes to use it as a resource going forward. Good. If there is any bright side to this incident, it is that students now have an opportunity to learn, grow and be better. Let us hope they seize it.

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