— Written by Andrew C. —
Growing up as an avid sports fan, I would always dream of becoming an all-star athlete in any of my favorite sports – baseball, tennis, football, etc. In the very beginning, I remember running out of my preschool classroom to play kickball on the blacktop and this is where it all started… as I grew into the youth soccer league and local baseball teams and travel tennis tournaments, I started to realize the lack of Jewish friends on these sports teams – even though I grew up in an affluent community with many Jewish families!
That changed in 2005 when I learned about the JCC Maccabi Games, where thousands of teenage Jewish athletes competed against each other in various sports – on an international scale!! I quickly jumped on this opportunity and tried-out for my local delegation’s baseball team… and made it on the team (which isn’t saying much, because, at this stage in life, I realize Jews are not the most successful at physical sports). Anyway, after months of training and late-night practices, we boarded the plane and traveled to Vancouver for the global tournament. The week-long celebration of sports was truly an incredible experience and an empowering opportunity to meet fellow teenagers who love the prospect of infusing Judaism and sports.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Games was learning about various aspects of global Jewry in sports. Primarily, the focus fell the Munich Massacre with a ceremony memorializing the eleven Israeli were kidnapped and later murdered during the 1972 Olympic Games; while devastating and tragic, organizers taught us to never forget our past but also to not give up or let obstacles slow our personal or common goals. In addition to this memorial, we were introduced to various professional Israeli clubs and many Jewish athletes from the States (some even played in past Maccabi Games).
As time passed, I started researching on my own about these Israeli clubs and Jewish sports figures; not only are there active Jewish athletes, but there are countless amounts of Jewish professionals in important business roles within leagues/teams. Some notable American Jewish athletes include Mark Spitz (swimmer), Ike Davis (baseball), Aly Raisman (gymnast), Omri Caspi (basketball), Julian Edelman (American football), and so many others. On the business side, there are multiple owners, commissioners, general managers – Theo Epstein of Chicago Cubs, Brett Ratner and Brett Yormark of the Brooklyn Nets, the Lerner family owns the Washington Nationals, the Glazer family has major roles in Manchester United and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and many others. Additionally, another notable owner is Robert Kraft, of the New England Patriots, is extremely supportive of sports programs in Israel – he founded the Israeli Football League in 2005. As of this writing, four major league sports in the US have commissioners of Jewish descent (MLB, MLS, NBA, and NHL). Plus, there are multiple museums that are dedicated to honoring these individuals who have shaped Jewish legacy in sports – located in major Jewish areas within the States and also in central Israel.
Twenty years after running onto the blacktop for recess kickball, I still dream of playing in the big leagues and becoming famous… but knowing there are handfuls of famous Jewish figures in the sports world, I am assured that my lack of physical prowess is not missed in the majors!