There’s a lesson to be learned from Jerry Jones, Kyrie Irving controversies

Words matter, and influential figures need to reject injustice in all forms.

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Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been in the news for something not related to football.

Ron Jenkins/AP

This is not a time when a sportswriter can, as the criticism always goes, ‘‘just stick to sports.’’

We have seen the power of disinformation, of the internet’s ability to spread anything without discrimination and for athletes, coaches, team owners and league commissioners to wield political power in ways we — and likely they — never dreamed of.

Two people stand out right now: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving.

Each has been in the news for issues that have nothing to do with sports but everything to do with the platforms they hold as leaders of thought among their followers and fans and even outside observers.

Jones, the billionaire Cowboys mogul and former co-captain of the University of Arkansas’ 1964 national championship football team, recently was found to be in an old photo, standing with a group of white North Little Rock (Arkansas) High School boys who were blocking the entry to the school of several Black students.

The year was 1957, and segregation was clinging to its last hopes in the Deep South. Jones isn’t doing anything threatening in the photo, just observing, but he’s there. And the symbolism, for a man who now is as powerful as they come in the mighty NFL, a league in which 70% of the players are Black, is impossible to ignore.

About a month ago, Irving, a seven-time All Star and three-time All-NBA team member, posted a link on Twitter to a vehemently antisemitic film. Among other lies, the film claims the Holocaust never happened.

Jones was outed, if that’s the proper word, by ace Washington Post writers Sally Jenkins and David Maraniss, and he sat with them and answered questions willingly about that photo.

‘‘He didn’t feel he had anything to apologize for,’’ Jenkins told me when we talked Monday. Jones, was, after all, only 14. And this was 65 years ago.

‘‘He never did say, ‘I’m sorry,’ ’’ Jenkins said. ‘‘But he was open and engaged and inquisitive, and he was not afraid to confront the most difficult topic in this country: racism. I give him all the credit in the world for sitting and talking. Thirty-one other owners wouldn’t. Nor would commissioner Roger Goodell.’’

Irving’s venture into the realm of antisemitism is part of a newer surge of the ancient prejudice that seemed to have died down in recent years. It’s back.

Irving was suspended at least five games (he missed eight) for his mistake, paid a fine and eventually apologized. But the apology came well after he already had tweeted, ‘‘I’m not going to stand down on anything that I believe in.’’

There’s irony in the fact that more than a million Jews live in New York City’s five boroughs, 60% of them in Brooklyn, home to the Nets, supported by many Jews.

Indeed, there’s irony and sadness in all of this. We seem to be blowing apart at the seams in this nation, not melting in the pot the way we had planned.

Words matter.

I have a 1975 book in my home library titled ‘‘The Hoax of the Twentieth Century,’’ which bizarrely ‘‘proves’’ the Holocaust never happened. It was written by A.R. Butz, an engineering professor at Northwestern. It pains me to think I once was a student on campus with that man.

In the book, Butz states that he ‘‘had penetrated and demolished the whole sorry mess’’ of the Holocaust, that ‘‘the legend of the several million gassed Jews must be a hoax.’’

Dear God, it wasn’t. It isn’t.

This stuff is dangerous.

Men and women in elite sport have a responsibility to tamp down such hatred, not inflame it. Hatred for another group is a disease. And there’s always another group out there.

Maybe we all can learn from Jones and Irving.

Let’s hope.

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