March 27, 2007
The lost Jewish athletes
Last summer, when the former Dodger Shawn Green took the field of Shea Stadium as a Met for the first time, a Jewish fan held up a poster with Greenâs photo and the words, âThe messiah has arrived.”
Whether Shawn Green wanted to be, NY fans saw him as the second coming of Sandy Koufax. In an article today posted at The Forward about the limited history of anti-Semitism in American sports, the author suggested that was due, in part, to the lack of Jews in professional sports. Jews are sports writers and team owners, league commissioners and coaches. But they’re not often all-star athletes.
The author of the article, Gerald Eskanazi, is himself a member of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Inductees include baseball greats Koufax and Hank Greenberg but also Sid Tanenbaum, who only played two years in the ABA.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the reason Jews have not been more successful at professional sports. A colleague of mine, a native New Yorker with a collection of Jewish baseball cards, once told me he suspected our mothers have something to do with it. “They place such an emphasis on education and being successful,” he said. I blame genetics. At 5’10”, slower than fast and unable to muscle up past 170, I can’t imagine competing at anything more than desk jockeying.
* My good friend David McGrath Schwartz noted basketball was at a time considered a Jewish sport, likely because of its urban connection. Red Auerbach, the greatest coach in professional basketball history, was Jewish. Moses Malone was not.