JFLers and the Yom Kippur dilemma

Posted on: September 8th, 2016 by Ron Kaplan 1 Comment

This year, the Day of Atonement begins on a Tuesday night and ends the following evening, so Ali Marpet, Nate Ebner, and Mitchell Schwartz don’t have to worry about missing a game.

Offensive liner Geoff Schwartz. Photo: Twitter.Mitchell’s brother, Geoff, an offensive lineman recently released by the Detroit Lions, is making the rounds to promote Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith, which they released earlier this month. He was on NPR’s Brian Lehrer Show on Tuesday and the issue came up.

Schwartz said “there is a “’high standard’ people believe athletes with Jewish roots have to ‘live up to’ in regards to keeping Judaism. He referenced former baseball player Sandy Koufax, who famously refused to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

“Schwartz, who used to play for the Detroit Lions and New York Giants, explained on the radio show that a move like Koufax’s would not be acceptable in the NFL.

“‘It’s different in football,’ he said. ‘In college you have 12 [football] games a year; in the NFL you have 16. You train for six months for this opportunity, so it’s hard to be starting off as an offensive lineman and then [you] tell your coach, “Hey, I’m not gonna be here this week to play a game.” It doesn’t really work that way.’

One of the first sports stories I did for the Jewish News, pre-Korner days, was a profile of Josh Miller, a punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers and other teams. Quoting from the story which originally appear in October, 2004:

Miller took a fair amount of criticism when he was with the Steelers and decided to play the Oct. 6, 2003, night game against the Cleveland Browns — erev Yom Kippur. He defended his position, telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “In reality, it’s my job. I need to be there…. I have to show up regardless of how I feel about it.”

Miller pointed out that as a punter, a very specialized position, the team didn’t have the luxury of backups as they do for other position, so the pressure to play was even more intense.

Of course, people will tell you a principle is a principle and sometimes it’s not easy to make that difficult choice. It always easy to tell other people what they should do. But when it comes time to put metal to the pedal (or however that phrase goes)… not so easy.

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One Response

  1. It’s incredible how many people are unaware of this dilemma that Jewish athletes are confronted with. Schwartz’s position is understandable as I believe he showed the proper reverence for his faith while also recognizing that he has a responsibility to his team and to deliver on all of the work and preparation that has brought him to the game day. Good read, I’d like to read more about the balance of faith-related obligations in the NFL in the future.


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