We learn in the New York Times today about Shlomo Veingrad, a former Green Bay Packer and Dallas Cowboy offensive tackle who should probably be counted as among the best Jewish football players since Sid Luckman led the Chicago Bears to NFL championships in the 1940s, if for no other reason than that he wears a Super Bowl ring! (He was on Dallas’s 1992 championship squad, from before the Cowboys started sucking.) Now, an observant Jew, he tours Chabad houses talking about how he rediscovered his religion when a Green Bay, Wisconsin, shop owner took him under his wing.
The article contains this provocative meditation on how Jews feel about Jewish athletes:
For Jews, abundant as fans but uncommon as top players, the visibility of a Shlomo Veingrad serves both reassuring and cathartic roles. Having a Jew to root for—whether Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax or the Israeli N.B.A. rookie Omri Casspi—“has a lot to do with our desire to define ourselves as Americans in the most American way, which is sports,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a history professor at Yeshiva University and the author of Judaism’s Encounter With American Sports.
At a deeper and more anxious level, American Jews continue to grapple with the stereotypical view of the Jew as egghead, nerd, weakling. That dismissive portrayal was a staple not only of anti-Semites, but also of early Zionists, who envisioned their “new man” with his plow and rifle as the antidote to the “golus Yid,” the exilic Jew unable even to defend himself.
A Jewish ballplayer is one thing; a Jew on the ultra-violent, no-holds-barred gridiron—and one who plays not one of the daintier skill positions like quarterback, or wide receiver, or even cornerback (or even, HaShem help us, kicker), but offensive lineman—might be the ultimate “new man.” Anyway, if sports are America’s (mostly) harmless, (mostly) guilt-free outlet for all those primal tribal urges that are best not put to more consequential use, then surely the original Tribe deserves to get in on it, too.
Oh, and a reminder for Sunday night: Jews have no special obligation to pull either for the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints. It’s usually more fun to root for the winner, though, so you should probably root for the Colts. The Scroll’s pick: Colts (-6) over Saints.
Earlier: Jewish QB Got Zero Playing Time
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.