. . . Wednesday February 6, 2008

Practicing Jews: Great Jews in Sports

Whenever someone asks me if I am a practicing Jew, I respond, “No, I just show up on gamedays.”

I of course mean the couple of high holidays and bnai mitzvah I show up for every year. But in truth, one does not associate Jews with the more traditional definition of gamedays at all.

After all, when you think of names like Asher, Fleischer and Berg, sports are not the first thing that comes to mind. But these names are in fact among those included in Robert Slater’s monumental 2003 tome, Great Jews in Sports.

A few caveats. The book is pretty short. And it includes folks that were only tangentially involved with the actual playing of the sport itself.

When attacking a subject like great Jews in sports, one has to dig a little. How deep? Let’s take a look at some of the categories that the greats fall into…

There are some who fall into a sort of “I’ll have to take your word for it” category such as:

Barry Asher
The Best Unknown Bowler in the Country

Some of the athletes who made the cut came from our slightly less popular sports (I don’t even think the guy from ESPN’s Stump the Schwab could pull this name out of his mental archives):

Gyozo Victor Barna
The Greatest Table Tennis Player Who Ever Lived

Other times, the author uses a subtle qualifier to insert an athlete into the list.

Herman Barron
The Greatest Jewish Golfer

Moe Berg
The Best Educated Major Leaguer

Then there are those Jews who had an impact, but only from the sidelines:

Larry Brown
A Highly-Successful Basketball Coach

Howard Cosell
The Most Famous Talker in America

Other times, the pride a Jew feels might be just a bit diminished:

Al Davis
The Mastermind of the Los Angeles Raiders

(At least tell me he’s not a practicing Jew…)

Then there are the true shockers:

Sidney Franklin
The First Jewish Bullfighter

One assumes he was also the last Jewish Bullfighter. My mom barely let me play football, and the results weren’t that impressive on the field. Ultimately, this is probably my only shot to make a next edition of the book.

Finally, there were those who made the Great Jews in Sports book whose resume seemed a little more true to stereotype:

Nat Fleischer
Founder and Editor of Ring Magazine

Great Jews in Publishing. Now that would be a book.

Concentration is important!