Over the summer, New York Knicks power forward Amar’e Stoudemire grabbed headlines—and not just Tablet Magazine’s—for his trip to Israel and flirtation with Judaism. Yesterday brought news of another quirky, über-talented black athlete’s earnest philo-Semitism: Ricky Williams of the Miami Dolphins (though he wants to be traded) revealed that he has been studying Hebrew and recently observed the Jewish Sabbath by dipping three times in his unheated hot tub and then spending from Friday evening through Saturday evening abstaining from television and reading. “When the day shifted from Saturday afternoon to Saturday night, even my thoughts shifted,” he related. “There was something very pure about that Saturday” (you can listen here). His wife apparently jokes that he is going to turn Tribe.
Williams is an unusually fascinating sports figure.
A college phenom—he won the 1998 Heisman Trophy, as the NCAA’s best player, while at the University of Texas—he put in a few successful years with the New Orleans Saints before being traded to the Dolphins, where, in 2004, he tested positive for marijuana; rather than submit to a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy (a suspension that prompted much debate, given that pot isn’t exactly performance-enhancing), he retired. He then returned to the game; was suspended again—this time likely due to herbs he took in relation to holistic medicine; bounced north to the Canadian Football League; and, finally, returned to the Dolphins, where for the past few years he has put up numbers generally unheard of for 33-year-old modern running backs.
Williams holds the record for the longest span between 1,000-yard rushing seasons—six—and this past season passed legendary fullback Larry Csonka to become the all-time top Dolpins back in terms of carries. He is 28th on the all-time rushing list. He is a vegetarian and a member of PETA; he (with his wife) is a father of five; and he is—maybe? kinda? sorta? at some point? in some way?—a Jew.