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:
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.
The Greatest Jewish Golfer
The Best Educated Major Leaguer
Then there are those Jews who had an impact, but only from the sidelines:
A Highly-Successful Basketball Coach
The Most Famous Talker in America
Other times, the pride a Jew feels might be just a bit diminished:
The Mastermind of the Los Angeles Raiders
(At least tell me he’s not a practicing Jew…)
Then there are the true shockers:
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:
Founder and Editor of Ring Magazine
Great Jews in Publishing. Now that would be a book.