Commentary Magazine

Jews and Sports

To the Editor:

I was surprised that Joseph Epstein, in his review of Jewish Jocks [“This Jewish Sporting Life,” January], failed to mention what to me is the primary reason Jews are underrepresented in American sports: the respect many of us have for the Fourth Commandment, “Thou shall remember the seventh day and keep it holy.”

Joseph Lieberman managed to combine being an observant Jew and a senator. But if he were, for example, the world’s greatest tennis player, there is no way he could make a living, since major tennis tournaments schedule matches on Saturday (like so many sports).

I was a pretty good junior high school quarterback, but I didn’t even try out for my high school team. Why? Because all our games were played on Friday nights. What was the point? And most college games are played on Saturday afternoons. So goodbye, NFL.

These examples are the rule, not the exception. There isn’t a golf tournament in the world that doesn’t schedule a round on Saturday afternoon. Many observant Jews are excellent athletes. Mr. Epstein should know this.

Jeffrey Weiser
Redmond, Washington


To the Editor:

I believe Joseph Epstein missed the mark when he claimed there are no notable Jewish wide receivers. He overlooked Fred Biletnikoff, the legendary Oakland Raiders wide receiver and member of both the NFL Hall of Fame and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Northern California. In fact, the award annually presented to the top college wide receiver is named for Biletnikoff.

Joe Vass
Phoenix, Arizona


To the Editor:

Joseph Epstein knows of “no Jews” currently playing in the NBA. Omri Casspi is a 6’9” forward from Israel who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He hasn’t gotten much playing time lately, but he’s there all the same.

Evan Kaiser
Seekonk, Massachusetts


To the Editor:

Joseph Epstein may be correct that some Jewish athletes downplay or even conceal their athletic abilities out of concern that they might detract from their professional reputations. I was once the assistant to a public-relations representative whose primary responsibility on behalf of one client was to make sure that his status as a world-class table-tennis champion was never, ever mentioned publicly anywhere. He did not want any attention given to anything but the skills he displayed in his day job.

His name was Jascha Heifetz.

Rosanne Klass
New York City


To the Editor:

I couldn’t count the number of times I chuckled while engrossed in reading Joseph Epstein’s review of Jewish Jocks. My West Side of Chicago high school’s 50th reunion was 10 years before Epstein’s, and many of the names he reviewed were familiar to me. But as a fellow Chicagoan I was a trifle let down because he missed a few of my heroes.

Chicago during the 1930s and long after was an outdoor ice-skating hub in winter, owing to its many frozen lagoons. That Irving Jaffee won two gold Olympic medals in two long-distance speed skating competitions at Lake Placid, New York, in 1932 (Sonja Henie, the Norwegian figure skater, won only one) was proudly touted by me and other boys. Jack Shea, a U.S. short-distance speed skater, also won two gold medals then, but after the Nazi accession to power he was the only American non-Jewish athlete who refused to compete in the 1936 winter Olympic games to be held in Germany.

But how could Epstein miss fellow Chicagoan Barney Ross, also like Jaffee, the son of Russian immigrants? In his career, Ross held three world championship titles at different weights, while Benny Leonard held only the lightweight division. In fact, Sugar Ray Robinson, who is considered to be the greatest boxer “pound for pound,” won the world champion title at only two different weights. And Ross’s physical bravery as a Marine at Guadalcanal in World War II is legendary, at least in the Windy City. It earned him the Silver Star and a Presidential Citation.

Does pool or billiards, popular when I was young, qualify as a sport? Mike Sigel at age 35 was the youngest pool player ever to be inducted into the Billiard Congress Hall of Fame. And when does a jock transmute into a nerd? Samuel Reshevsky was the U.S. chess champion no less than eight times.

Nevertheless, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Bertrand Horwitz
Asheville, North Carolina


To the Editor:

Joseph Epstein writes that baseball player Adam Greenberg “was beaned on his single at bat in the majors and never returned.” In fact, the Miami Marlins gave Greenberg a token at bat this past summer. Token though it was—Greenberg’s contract was for one day, and he struck out on three pitches—the at bat will be recorded in baseball record books. Perhaps more important, Greenberg has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Baltimore Orioles, so there is hope for next season (although probably not much).

Erik M. Jensen
Cleveland, Ohio

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