Anthony Firkser – His positive impact as a Jewish NFL Player

Nov 30, 2021 | Jews in Sports

The National Football League has very little Jewish player representation. With less than a handful of Jewish players around the league, most football players know little about Jewish culture or history. Anthony Firkser, a tight end for the Tennessee Titans, is Jewish and is often the first Jew his teammates ever meet.

Anthony Firkser grew up in Manalapan, New Jersey and attended Temple Shaari Emeth, where he and other members of his family celebrated Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. “We celebrate the main holidays —Hanukkah, Passover, we try to get together to spend time together.” Firkser commented to the Jewish Telegraph Agency. Although not religious, Firkser grew up surrounded by Jewish holidays and traditions. Being one of the few Jews in the League, he said “It’s cool to talk about… to share a little bit different background than a lot of guys are used to in the league.”

Prior to joining the NFL, Firkser participated in the 2013 Maccabiah basketball tournament in Israel. He visited Israel for three weeks and got to explore deeper into his own Jewish Background. Firkser recounted his trip saying “it was a cool experience all around to learn about the religion and the heritage and Israel as a whole.”

Anthony Firkser went to Manalapan New Jersey Highschool. He was a multi-sport athlete playing basketball, ice hockey, and only started playing football his sophomore year. Despite starting football late, he set his High School’s record in receptions (110), receiving yards (2,118), and touchdown receptions (19). He then went on to play for Harvard University, and after the 2017 draft, was picked up by the New York Jets. In 2018 he underwent a brief stint with the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad before signing with the Titans.

Firkser made his NFL debut in September of 2018 against the Houston Texans, and ironically recorded his first career touchdown against the New York Jets in December of 2018. In 2019, his second season in the NFL, Firsker made his first ever postseason debut, appearing in all three games, and led the team with two touchdowns. The following season, in 2020, he appeared in all 16 games, posting career highs in receptions (39) and receiving yards (387). In the ten games he has played so far this season, Firkser has 20 receptions, 145 yards, and is averaging 7.3 yards per reception.

In July of 2020, Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted anti-semetic quotes falsely credited to Hitler. He later removed the post and apologized, claiming he had no ill- intention and has no hate towards Jewish people. He commented saying “Hitler has caused terrible pain to Jewish people like the pain African-Americans have suffered. We should be together fighting anti-Semitism and racism. This was a mistake to post this and I truly apologize for posting it and sorry for any hurt I have caused.”

Despite the apology and explanation, people were quick to rebuke and criticize Jackson’s appalling and inexcusable post. He was fined, but managed to avoid being suspended or released by the team’s Jewish owner and Jewish general manager. His post is a testament to how ignorant many people, specifically football players, still are regarding Jewish history.

Shortly after, Firkser participated in a Jewish NFL virtual summit where active and retired Jewish players discussed the scandal and in general, Jews in football. They relayed their desire to educate the ignorant instead of canceling them. Rabbis and Holoucaust survivors later offered to meet with Jackson to help him understand Jewish History and Culture.

During this time, Firkser became an ambassador for Unity Through Sports, an organization which aims to use “sports as a vehicle to take a stand against discrimination.” Firkser regarded the non-profit saying “We’re all working towards a common goal. That was something good to stand behind and be able to use my Jewish background as something that could be seen as different that people don’t understand, but show them how similar it all is.”

There are not many Jewish NFL players, and Anthony Firkser has spoken about what it means to be one. He is a positive Jewish presence in a community that has very little knowledge, education, or understanding of Judaism’s unique and complex history.

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