Vanderbilt coach violated social media policy, university says

Vanderbilt assistant coach Dan Jackson.
Vanderbilt assistant coach Dan Jackson.(Courtesy of Vanderbilt University)
Published: Dec. 13, 2022 at 1:16 PM CST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – A Vanderbilt University coach violated a school social media policy when he defended Kanye West on Facebook last month. Yet, his comments were not deemed discriminatory, a university investigation found.

StopAntisemitism, a nonpartisan organization aimed at exposing antisemitism, posted to Twitter in November claiming Vanderbilt defensive backs coach Dan Jackson defended Kanye West on a Facebook thread.

West, or Ye, has been criticized for several antisemitic posts, threats and comments in recent months. The nonprofit’s post showed a screenshot of a Facebook comment, where Jackson defends West and says people “need to wake up.”

“Kayne is two steps ahead of everyone. He’s not crazy,” Jackson wrote in the Facebook post. “People try to silence him because he thinks for himself. People don’t want that. Rappers and athletes are taught to think the same as the media/politicians. If they have an opinion that is opposite the mainstream, they’re called crazy. More people need to wake up and speak their mind.”

At the time, Vanderbilt University Athletic Director Candice Lee and head football coach Clark Lea released a joint statement saying the comments were not directed at a specific group, but they were disappointed, and the situation would be handled internally. Tuesday, Lee said the matter was referred to Vanderbilt’s Equal Opportunity and Access (EOA) office, which is the university’s standard process for handling reports of discrimination or harassment.

The EOA investigation found Lee was “unaware of the recent racists and antisemitic remarks by rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West.” Jackson used Ye as an example “to show support for the (original) post’s demand for free expression and equality in the treatment of Black and white public figures,” Vanderbilt said.

Quickly, the university said, Jackson realized his comments were “misguided and informed.”

“EOA determined that while Coach Jackson’s comments were hurtful and lacked critical context, they were not discriminatory nor intended to target any group and did not violate Vanderbilt’s anti-harassment policy,” athletic director Lee said in a statement. “The comments did, however, violate the Electronic Communications and Information Technology Resources policy for staff, which prohibits ‘unprofessional communication that could negatively impact Vanderbilt’s reputation or interfere with Vanderbilt’s core mission.’”

Jackson has remained away from the football program while completing relevant coursework on unconscious bias, inclusion and anti-discrimination, Lee said.

“This is a complex issue, and I understand how it can be difficult for some to accept this outcome. However, I want to be very clear and reiterate: On behalf of the athletics department, I do not tolerate antisemitism in any form, including among our coaches and staff,” Lee said in a statement. “Coach Jackson has expressed a desire to go beyond these recommendations to use this mistake as an opportunity to grow personally and help our community to be better. To that end, he will also be meeting with affected student groups and community members and complete antisemitism education to enhance his understanding of their concerns. Although it was not his intent, there is no doubt that by offering support for a celebrity’s right to free expression on the heels of offensive remarks, Coach Jackson opened the door for his comments to be interpreted as supportive of the worst of those sentiments. He immediately conveyed his disgust and disappointment about Ye’s comments, and he has been deeply remorseful since, expressing an earnest and heartfelt desire to take responsibility for his actions and help to heal any wounds he caused.”

Coach Jackson released the following statement in response to the social media policy violation:

“A few weeks ago, I read a social media post made by a lifelong friend whom I’ve mentored for over 20 years. I interpreted his post as a statement asking for equality and fairness in media coverage of all individuals. Without knowledge of recent actions by the individuals mentioned in the original post, including Kanye West, I impulsively replied. My emotion surrounding mental health and athletes using their voice for positive change were at the forefront of my comment.

After being made aware of discriminatory statements made by West, I was sickened to know that my words could be interpreted as hurtful. For this I am saddened and apologetic. In no way do I support antisemitism or any form of discrimination, nor do I condone any forms of bias.

I have lived my life and focused my career on being a positive light for others to help them become the best versions of themselves. This is who I remain. I am determined to use this experience as a transformative one for myself and those I influence. In the weeks and months ahead, I am hoping to meet with those I have hurt to apologize to them and learn from them.

It is an honor to be a member of Vanderbilt University and this diverse community.”