On April 27th, the New York Police Department booked Detroit Tigers’ outfielder Delmon Young on assault charges. With the Tigers in town to play the Yankees, Young painted the Big Apple red, getting “highly intoxicated” and engaging in a violent scuffle on Sixth Avenue around 2:40 in the morning. The fact that Young, a troubled and much disliked “headcase” with a history of violent outbursts, ran afoul of the law is not, in and of itself, particularly interesting. What is compelling about the case is the fact that Young’s offence was no mere drunken beatdown, but rather a drunken hate crime. Encountering a yamulke-donning panhandler, the former top prospect shouted, “Fucking Jews! Fucking Jews” at the man. How this fed into the assault at hand remains unclear, but New York state prosecutors quickly booked Young on first-degree aggravated harassment charges and have openly characterized the attack as racially motivated.
Either out of sincere contrition or, more likely, a desire to not be publicly branded a bigot for the rest of his life, Young was quick to release a statement in his defence. ”I’m sorry to all the fans, the Tigers, my teammates and everybody out there,” he explained, “but I just want everyone to know that I am not anti-Semitic. I wasn’t raised that way. I came from a good family and we weren’t taught any of that.” Yahoo Sports’ Noah Trister further explains that Young claims, “alcohol is to blame for this latest incident – not any ill feelings toward members of any religion.” As proof of his supposed anti-anti-Semitism, Young had his Jewish agent, Arn Tellem, release a statement emphatically stating that his client is not an anti-Semite, but he simply “drank too much on the night of the incident, and…put himself in a compromising situation.” It remains to be seen how effective Young’s “I can’t be anti-Semitic, my agent’s Jewish” defence will sit with the public over the coming months.
It must be said that Young is only a “celebrity” in the broadest sense of the term, though he does symbolize something larger and more insidious about the interplay between celebrity, alcohol, and discrimination. Over the last six years, a procession of celebrities have devolved into anti-Semitic diatribes, only to later blame alcohol and drug addictions for the articulation of such thoughts. The first, and most troubling, example of this trend was Mel Gibson’s infamous 2006 DUI arrest that led to the Passion of the Christ director vituperating his (Jewish) arresting officer with a slew of insult and exclaiming “”Fucking Jews…The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” A few days after TMZ.com broke the story of his outburst, Gibson released a statement in which he explained “I have battled with the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health.” A man who had long been viewed as anti-Semitic was now claiming that liquor (and not, say, the influence of Gibson’s own Holocaust-denying father) led the movie star to proclaim things he believed not to be true.
In February 2011, Christian Dior suspended and then fired Head Designer John Galliano for his own anti-Semitic outburst. At a Paris bar, Galliano repeatedly insulted an adjacent couple, calling one a “fucking ugly Jewish bitch” and the other a “fucking Asian bastard.” He also loudly exclaimed his love for Adolf Hitler and, in all, reportedly popped off thirty anti-Semitic slurs in forty-five minutes. Because he made his statement in France, a nation with strict anti-hate speech crime laws, Galliano was forced to go to trial over his comments. The state quickly and successfully convicted Galliano of “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity,” having argued that, although the designer “was not a ‘theoretician’ of race hatred,” he exhibited “everyday anti-Semitism and racism.” Like Gibson before him and Young after Galliano argued, in court no less, that his outburst was the product of an alcohol addiction that he nursed as a means of coping with his high stress job. “After every creative high, I would crash and the alcohol helped me,” he explained to the presiding justice. Once again, like Gibson and Young, Galliano was unable to show what, exactly, the connection was between his alcohol abuse and his “poor decision” to engage in hate speech.