Harry Sheezel is the first Jewish player to be drafted into the AFL since 1999. Photo: Reuters/James Ros
A young Jewish athlete who was drafted into one of the top teams in the Australian Football League (AFL) has pushed back against the shower of antisemitic abuse he received following the announcement.
“My initial reaction was I kind of found it quite disrespectful, obviously,” 18-year-old Harry Sheezel told The Australian on Monday. “I think they’re just ignorant and uneducated and they’re probably not sure about the impact that stuff can have, but to be honest, I don’t let that stuff affect me.
He continued: “I just think those people probably need to learn and they need to find out that that’s not right or tolerated in today’s society.”
Sheezel is the first Jewish player since 1999 to be drafted into the AFL — one of the most popular sports in Australia that is played with an oval ball and incorporates techniques similar to rugby, soccer and American football. He will play for the AFL’s North Melbourne franchise.
Dozens of antisemitic posts targeting Sheezel invoked stereotypes of Jews and mocked the Holocaust.
“His teammates should not expect him to shout end of season drinks,” one post read. Others were much cruder: “A jew (sic) actually doing physical exercise? Fake news,” read one, while another, in a Holocaust reference, questioned whether Sheezel had “enough gas in the tank.”
The comments were left on the Facebook page of the Melbourne Age newspaper after it published a profile of Sheezel. The post was removed once the paper’s social media team was made aware of the hateful comments. All other posts linking to the article on social media were restricted to prevent further comments.
“It’s disgraceful and disappointing that sewer-dwellers on social media took such a story and turned it into an excuse for vile antisemitic abuse,” the Age’s editor, Michael Bachelard, said in a statement.“Comments were not blocked or adequately moderated until the issue was drawn to our attention, when the situation was rectified. For this, we apologize to Harry Sheezel and the broader Jewish community.”
Sheezel is a graduate of Mount Scopus, a Jewish school in Melbourne where his AFL success was warmly celebrated.
“Harry has been a Scopus student throughout his school career, and at every stage of his journey to the AFL has shown that he is a proud member of the school community and of the wider Jewish community,” said Rabbi James Kennard, the school’s principal, in a statement.