Steve Yzerman from the blue line in game seven double overtime, Vladimir Konstantinov being wheeled onto the ice to hoist the Stanley Cup, and of course, Bob Probert: as a Detroit Red Wings fan, I’ve had more than my fair share of great moments. And when the team signed defenseman Mathieu Schneider in 2003, my favorite hockey team did the last possible thing I would ask for: they signed a Jew.
I grew up playing hockey, a sport that really doesn’t have any Jewish superstars in its history. Schneider was hardly that caliber of player, but he did retire with a few all-star game appearances, as well as a Stanley Cup ring won with the Montreal Canadians. He was also widely known by Red Wings fans as the guy who had his own introduction music every time he hit the ice: “Hava Nagila.” And I’ll be the first to admit, as a Jew and a Red Wings fan, it never got old.
Until last year, when the Chicago Bears drafted Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin, I never really cheered for another American Jewish athlete. Ryan Braun plays for my team’s rival, and I’m sorry to Omri Casspi, but I’m not going to root for a guy who plays for the Sacramento Kings or the Cleveland Cavilers just because he’s a Jew. If there is a God, those are the two franchises he’s forgotten about.
And while I’d embrace somebody tagged as my generation’s Hank Greenberg or Sid Luckman, it doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon. There are no signs of a Jew who is willing to chose religion or tradition over the big game, and until Amar’e officially changes his name to Amichai, I’m not going to buy into his Jewishness; however, if Mr. Stoudemire does decide to go through the conversion process, I’ll gladly plunk down some cash to buy one of his jerseys, and send him a bottle of bourbon in case he decides to get the Big Snip.
For some reason or another, Tim Tebow is insanely popular right now, which is strange considering that as of this writing, his accomplishments this season include barely beating a Miami Dolphin team with no wins, and getting smacked around by the Detroit Lions. And yet people still love him like a brother or a son, and many of them do it because Tebow is a devout Christian who prays out in the open when something goes his way, stars in Super Bowl commercials for the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, and has even helped circumcise Filipino boys when the occasion has arisen. Tim Tebow loves Jesus, and fans love Tim Tebow. He has done very little to prove himself as a professional football player, but the city of Denver (at the very least…) is in the grips of Tebow fever.
I don’t fault Tebow for having beliefs; I just don’t like his ostentatious way of reminding us of his righteousness. Cross yourself, sit out on Yom Kippur, get a crucifix tattooed on your arm, or go hang out with Phil Jackson at a Buddhist Temple–I don’t really care what your religious beliefs are, but it’s really unnerving when somebody uses their position as a mediocre athlete to try and proselytize, which is exactly what Tebow seems to be aiming for.
For all intents and purposes, Sandy Koufax’s refusal to pitch on Yom Kippur is the great moment (or lack thereof) in American Jewish sports history. To this very day, sports fans like myself who weren’t even alive for any part of the pitcher’s career talk about Koufax’s decision like it happened a week ago. A big part of the reason for that is because of how unassuming Koufax was in his decision, and considering it was game one of the World Series, Koufax could have undoubtedly used the baseball championship as a soapbox to espouse all sorts of things. But he didn’t. He simply sat out the game so he could adhere to tradition.
To me, that’s the exact opposite of what Tim Tebow does and says, and it also highlights the exact reason that I’d like the humble Jewish observance practiced by Sandy Koufax to stay as the model for Jewish athletes moving forward. If some named Moishe Kreplach becomes the next Aaron Rogers, but he can’t practice on Shabbos, or he wants to put on tefilin, that’s amazing. He’s a good Jewish role model. I’d just rather he did it on the DL.