Friday, May 20, 2011

Scott Raab, Holocaust comedian

Up until now, Scott Raab was mostly known as a journalist who writes in-depth celebrity profiles for Esquire Magazine. On his Wikipedia page, Raab calls himself "a fat Jew from Cleveland" who has a tattoo of Chief Wahoo on his forearm -- done during an interview with Dennis Rodman.

Raab was in the center of a mini-controversy last fall, when the Miami Heat refused to give him press credentials, a by-product of Raab's negative approach while writing about LeBron James' exit from Cleveland.

But this week, Raab became known for something much worse. He placed himself into a pot of boiling water that, outside of and a few sports blogs, has largely gone unreported.

In a tweet -- presumably in response to a contest being run by the Dallas Mavericks, asking fans to choose an "official" nickname for Dirk Nowitzki (above), who had just dropped 48 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder -- Raab wrote the following:

"All the fuss about a Nowitzki nickname is absurd. Gotta be "Zyklon D," nein?"

Zyklon was a pellet-based pesticide that became lethal when exposed to oxygen, and was what the Nazis used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau. The full name of the poison was Zyklon B, which Raab twisted to Zyklon D, as in, D for Dirk Nowitzki.

Let all of that sink in for a moment.

I can immediately think of 6 million reasons to be upset about this, and I'm sure you can too. The fact that Raab is Jewish doesn't matter. I'm Jewish, and when I saw it, I was offended and sickened by the reference. And imagine how would you feel if you were Nowitzki, who, of course, is German and was born in 1978, 33 years after World War II ended?

I haven't found or heard any reactions from Nowitzki on the matter, probably because it has not hit the mainstream. Perhaps the main reason for that is Raab is now a "regular contributor" to Esquire as opposed to a member of the magazine's staff, which he was until 1997, according to his Wikipedia page. The point is that because Raab does not have to answer to anyone for his tweets, he can pretty much say whatever he wants, unfiltered and without anyone questioning, in this case, his judgment and taste -- which is why self-editing is a necessary skill in today's tweet-happy world.

Let's put it this way: If Raab worked for, say, ESPN or were a full-time columnist for a newspaper or website, he probably would have been fired. Rogers SportsNet in Toronto fired a TV host last week because he supported the anti-gay sentiments of a hockey agent who criticized the Rangers' Sean Avery for supporting gay marriage.

What I am sure of is this: Nowitzki would be as horrified as anyone. In Germany, it's illegal to display the swastika or other Nazi symbols, and the Holocaust is a legacy of shame and disgust for nearly every decent person in today's Germany.

For his part, Raab did apologize on Twitter 13 hours after his initial tweet, linking to an article he penned for Esquire on a convicted Nazi death camp guard who relocated to the United States. But it's important for us to object to and call out anyone who slurs or makes light of any form of intolerance, or in this case, genocide.

There are at least 6 million reasons why.

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