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Archive for the ‘Guest column’ Category

 

Guest column: Rosh Hashana — A Time For A Winning Attitude, Transformation

Posted on: September 5th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

The following comes courtesy of former NFL player Alan Shlomo Veingrad.

As an observant Jew and former professional football player, I am always struck by the proximity of Rosh Hashana and the start of the NFL season.The month of Elul leading up to the Jewish New Year provides an opportunity to renew, refresh and ready oneself for the start of another “season.”

And while making the team was not “who shall live, and who shall die,” there is no forgetting that adrenaline rush from home openers at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, where legendary Packer Coach Vince Lombardi once roamed and was quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

I played offensive lineman for one of Coach Lombardi’s disciples, Forrest Gregg, and later, in Dallas under another from the coaching pantheon, Jimmy Johnson, as a member of the Cowboys’ 1992 Super Bowl championship team.

Gregg and Johnson preached discipline and improvement. Their assistants and I studied successes and failures: Did I make the right block? Was I in the right place at the right time? Did I follow instructions and prepare properly? Did I jump off-sides or get called for holding – costing my team the game?

In every sport and every endeavor there are fumbles, errors, misses and failures. There comes a time when we have to say, “I blew a big chance to make an impact. I forgot what you told me and it hurt the team. I accept responsibility and I am sorry. Will you forgive me, coach? This season, I’m ready to start over and be every bit the player you know I can be.”

In my transformation to a Torah-observant Jew and commitment to make my G-d, family and community proud of me, I carry the same attitude and willingness to learn and be better, to not raise a voice or step on a toe, to be capable of scoring a touchdown by meaningful mitzvah, to forgive and seek forgiveness.

The holiday of Rosh Hashanah gets us back in the game. It’s our time to seek forgiveness, make adjustments, to let G-d know that we’re going to learn his playbook, the Torah, like never before, and that we are going to make Him proud.

Alan Shlomo Veingrad has inspired thousands with his candid, humorous, inspirational and spell-binding tales on life in the ultra-competitive NFL, and how he took that fire to transform himself into a Torah-observant Jew following his playing days. Based in Boca Raton, FL, Veingrad has traveled from New York to South Africa speaking at camps, Shabbatons, school programs, yeshivas, scholar-in-residence programs, men’s clubs, as well as charity fund raising events. He is often asked to speak to businesses and corporations looking to inspire their employees, and is an inductee of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. For speaking engagements, Veingrad can be reached at alan@alanveingrad.com. To read more and see videos about him, visit www.alanveingrad.com.

Father and child reunion?

Posted on: July 13th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

Why is Cecil Fielder like Moses? Read Rabbi Jason Miller’s column on the Huffington Post and see.

 

Junior Seau

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

By now you might have heard the news that Junior Seau, a 12-time NFL Pro-Bowler, died yesterday, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Seau was 43 at the time of his death, which is sad in itself, but the emphasis in recent years on the long-lasting effects of injuries sustained on the field have made this even more of a concern.

From the MSNBC website:

In February 2011, former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson committed suicide at age 50, choosing to shoot himself in the chest so that scientists could look for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease linked to head blows that can culminate in dementia and other symptoms. And just last month, former Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling, who had sued the NFL for mismanaging players’ concussions, shot and killed himself at age 62.

I asked a couple of fellow Jewish sports bloggers for their take on the tragedy.

Rabbi Jason Miller:

Seau’s passing, allegedly at his own hands, is heartbreaking. I believe that the commissioner of the NFL is duty bound to ensure the safety of all players in the league. This includes making sure that current players’ future health and safety are taken into account. The hard hitting to the head in the NFL is clearly having future health ramifications for retired players. Commissioner Roger Goodell should make this his number one priority. Pikuach Nefesh, ensuring the safety of a human being’s life, is of incomparable importance as a Jewish value. I hope the NFL will commit to that value as well, without any reservation.

Rabbi Joshua Hess:

It is so easy to become envious of professional Athletes because of their wealth and fame. Growing up, I often fantasized about how great my life would be “if only I had that kind of money and notoriety.” But athletes have it really tough; especially football players who often suffer severe brain damage and only play a few seasons on average. By the time they are my age (31), their careers are over and they don’t always have the capacity to find a new vocation.

Moreover, everyone has testified that Seau, in particular, was such a fun loving and giving person. He would always go the extra mile for you.Yet what we have come to see, time and time again, is that not only is money a terrible indicator of happiness, but even those who appear to be in great spirits on the outside, may be suffering terribly on the inside. Human beings are complex people and we should never pass judgment on someone, based on their looks, profession, or financial standing. We are all creations from the “most high;” and created in the image of God, and we all need to be loved. This tragedy is another reminder of this truism.

Auschwitz Survivor's grandson plays for Germany's national hockey team

Posted on: February 9th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

A guest column from Rabbi Jason Miller

One year ago today I waited in line to enter the Reichstag. The moment wasn’t lost on me. Almost seventy years prior, the Nazi government made every effort to wipe my people off the face of this earth. And there I was, with a dozen other American rabbis, about to walk into the historic Berlin building that is the seat of the current German government as Chancellor Angela Merkel was addressing Parliament. I smiled as I handed my passport to the German officer and placed my watch and wallet into the bin before walking through the metal detector. What an interesting world we live in.

Evan Kauffman, right, of the DEG Metro Stars (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Several people asked me how I was able to travel to Berlin and spend money in the same country in which the Holocaust was conceived and planned. I’m sure those same people are asking how American-born hockey player Evan Kaufmann can represent the German national team this weekend. Several of Evan Kaufmann’s relatives perished in the Nazi Holocaust. His grandfather Kurt survived Auschwitz before fleeing to the United States.

Kaufmann moved to Germany in 2008, but word is just getting out about this Jewish hockey player whose great-grandparents perished in the Holocaust playing for the German National Hockey Team (DEG Metro Stars of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga). The 28-year-old forward hopes to bring Germany a victory in the Belarus Cup in Minsk this weekend. Kaufmann, who is married to Danielle, received German citizenship in order to play for the national team, and is among the top scorers in the German ice hockey league. Kaufmann admits his teammates are very curious about him being Jewish and often ask him questions. Kaufmann told the UK’s Daily Mail, “I didn’t have to think hard about it. It is a great honour but it will also be a very emotional moment for me when I hear the national anthem played.”

Evan Kaufmann’s bio on the DEG Metro Stars website explains:

Kaufman, left, battles for the puck.

Evan Kaufmann joined the team in the summer of 2008. He was the great unknown to the team of DEG Metro Stars. A college player with had no experience in professional hockey made​​, received a German passport has in a very short time captured the hearts of the audience. His technical finesse and his speed made ​​him a major player in the third line of attack in Dusseldorf. So it was no surprise that his contract was extended for a few months ahead of schedule for two more years. It should be worth it. In the 2010-11 season Kauffman became the second-leading scorer behind Patrick Reimer. Together with Tyler Beechey and James Connor, he made a splendid swirling storm formation, which has established itself as the second offensive series and was instrumental in moving into the playoff semi-final. Kaufmann, whose grandfather came from Germany, began his career in the American Junior League for the River City Lancers. After a very strong year Kaufmann moved to the University of Minnesota to study and play Hockey. After his four years at the University of Minnesota, he devoted himself entirely to hockey.

While Kaufmann isn’t the first Jewish individual to compete for Germany in the post-Holocaust era (a Jewish man swam for Germany in the 1952 Olympics and a Jewish woman swam for Germany in the 2004 Olympics), he is the most notable. It is certainly an interesting story that seven decades after his great-grandparents and other relatives were murdered by the Nazis, Kaufmann is proud to represent Germany on the ice. This is just one more way in which the Jewish community will come to view Germany differently. Never forgetting the massive tragedy of the Holocaust, we understand that this is a new Germany… A Germany we can cheer for proudly in this weekend’s Belarus Cup. Good luck to Evan Kaufmann and his DEG Metro Stars.

Rabbi Jason Miller is on Twitter @rabbijason. He blogs at blog.rabbijason.com

 

Tamir Goodman, "The Jewish Jordan," redux

Posted on: January 4th, 2012 by Ron Kaplan

The ‘Jewish Jordan’ talks basketball, Judaism, and giving back

By Karina Grudnikov

(JUF News) — “Jewish Jordan” — that’s the nickname Sports Illustrated gave Tamir Goodman when he was merely 17 years old and a high school junior at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore. Ranked among the best 25 high school basketball players in America, Goodman seemed set to become the first Orthodox Jew to play for the NBA.

Things didn’t go as expected — plans to attend the University of Maryland fell through because the basketball schedule would have forced him to play on the Sabbath. He attended Towson University instead, but only played basketball for two seasons.

Despite the setbacks, Goodman did become a pro-basketball player, playing in Israel for six seasons on teams such as Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa. He also played for the Maryland Nighthawks, but eventually a series of injuries caused him to retire from basketball in 2009.

Since then, he has been focused on inspiring the next generation through a variety of initiatives aimed at connecting children with sports and their Jewish identity, both in Israel and the United States.

* * *

How would you say Judaism and basketball intertwined in your life?
Basketball and Judaism have always been one thing to me. I always played basketball for the Jewish people and Israel, because when I had that in my mind, it gave me extra motivation…to come back from injuries or to practice harder or play harder, to succeed. Because it wasn’t about me — it was about something much bigger than me…It gave me a stronger work ethic than if I had just played for myself…

There were other players who would say, “I played well today, I can take it easy tomorrow.” I was never like that. I could never be satisfied with my performance; I always had a need to move forward…And many things we learn from Judaism you need for basketball, such as the value of a work ethic.

How do you feel about being called the “Jewish Jordan?”
Being called the “Jewish Jordan,” I always used it as a tool to inspire or help other people. I never played basketball for myself — I always played for the Jewish people and Israel… I always used it as a tool to inspire other people. I would think, “Wow, maybe someone looks up to me because they call me the “Jewish Jordan.” How am I going to take that media attention and inspire people? I was never really comfortable with being called that, so I tried to use the media attention that came along with the nickname to do as much good as possible.

You didn’t end up playing college basketball at the University of Maryland because of scheduling that conflicted with your religious practices.  You also didn’t end up making it into the NBA. Do you lament the way things turned out or do you think everything happens for a reason?
With everything in my career, I feel so fortunate and blessed and believe that everything that happened was for a reason.  The challenges I faced have prepared me for the work I do now. I can relate to kids and their struggles in a way that I would not have been able to had everything been smooth sailing.

Even with the challenges, I was able to live out my dream. I played basketball in college and pro-basketball in Israel and the U.S. — all without playing on Shabbat. It was an amazing experience and I feel so fortunate.

I also did military service in the IDF Service and was awarded the “Outstanding Soldier Award.”

It was a miracle that I was able to reach so many of my goals without playing on Shabbat, and I’m grateful to my coaches and everyone who helped me along the way.

What do you ultimately hope to inspire in young people by being so involved with youth programming?
I hope to inspire them to be proud of their Jewish identity. Uniting the physical and spiritual is what Judaism is about. If you want to be a professional athlete, you shouldn’t see it as hindrance that you are Jewish… It’s the opposite.

Judaism is a blessing… Judaism teachers us to embrace our talents and channel them in the right way… This concept directly relates to sports, such as in the ideas of team building, work ethic, reaching goals, being organized, being positive… We bring out all these Jewish values through sports because it resonates with the kids…We talk to them in a language they understand to teach those values.

We teach them that even before you step on the court, you need to understand who you are and what you represent. You represent more than yourself — as a Jewish athlete, you represent the Jewish people and Israel.

* * *

For more information about Tamir Goodman and Coolanu Israel, visit www.tamirgoodman.com.

Guest column: Jews, Israel, and Baseball: A shidduch?

Posted on: November 23rd, 2011 by Ron Kaplan

Editor’s note: This article was written by Andrew Wolfenson, who writes at open.salon.com/blog/andywolf.

* * *

Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers has been named the winner of the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player award. He is the first Jewish player to be showered with shouts of “mazel tov”  for capturing the MVP award since 1963. This comes at a time when published reports indicate that three former Jewish major leaguers have thrown their support behind Israel’s bid to host the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The concept of a Jew being named MVP for the first time in almost half a century and the Jewish homeland being selected to host a world baseball tournament is staggering. While it is unlikely that the Classic will be awarded to the always-volatile country, the mere fact that it is being considered, along with the successes being achieved by Braun and other current Jewish ballplayers, signals the beginning of a new era in Jewish baseball.

Up until this point, one would have been hard-pressed to term baseball a “Jewish” sport. Only three Jewish-born players are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and only five Jews, including Braun, have won Most Valuable Player awards. The 1930s through 1950s — a time when most Jews lived in the country’s major cities and their abilities to purchase athletic equipment was limited — created an era of Jewish basketball all-stars and boxing champions, but few baseballers. Now, a trio of current superstars — Braun, Boston’s Kevin Youkilis, and Texas’ Ian Kinsler — have established this as the most prolific generation of major league baseball ballplayers.

"Hank Greenberg," by Dave Choate

Hank Greenberg was the first Jewish superstar in the Major Leagues, and the man known as “Hammerin’ Hank” (prior to future home run king Hank Aaron) paved the way for future Jewish players much like Jackie Robinson later did for African-American ballplayers. I wrote about Greenberg on my blog last New Year’s Day, which would have been his 100th birthday. Despite enduring rampant anti-Semitism and missing four years while serving in World War II, Greenberg, a hulking first baseman, compiled a .313 lifetime batting average to complement his 331 home runs and 1,276 RBIs. He won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award twice, in 1935 and 1940, and set major league records for both home runs (58) and RBIs (183) by a right-hand hitter. Also, although he played first base at the same time as Yankee legend Lou Gehrig, he was still selected to play in five All-Star games. Following his retirement, he held ownership interests and front-office positions with the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956, the first Jew so enshrined.

Most importantly, however, Greenberg, a true mensch, as he withstood the vitriolic comments and insults being hurled at him by anti-Semitic opponents and fans. As his former teammate, Birdie Tebbets, said, “There was nobody in the history of the league who took more abuse than Greenberg, unless it was Jackie Robinson.… I was with Hank when it was happening and I heard it. However, Hank was not only equal to it, he was superior to most of the people who were yelling at him.… Hank consistently took more abuse than anyone I have ever known.… Nobody else could have withstood the foul invectives that were directed toward Greenberg …” (The Story of My Life, by Greenberg with Ira Berkow).

Greenberg’s heroics blazed a difficult trail to follow, but two members of the 1940s-50s Cleveland Indians attempted to take the mantel from him. During a fifteen-year career, Lou Boudreau won the 1944 batting championship and, while a player-manager for the Indians, captured the 1948 American League Most Valuable Player award. He also served as the radio voice for the Chicago Cubs for several decades, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970. His teammate, Al Rosen, was one of the standouts on the 1954 championship-winning Indians, a four-time All-Star, and won the 1953 MVP award. Rosen later served in front-office positions with the Indians and the New York Yankees, his stint with the Yankees taking place during the team’s “Bronx Zoo” successes of the late 1970’s.

The greatest of all Jewish players, however, was Sandy Koufax. Arguably the best left-hander ever to pitch in the majors and on everyone’s short list for best pitchers of all-time, the Brooklyn-born Koufax simply dominated the National League from 1961 through 1966. In the four seasons from 1963 through his retirement in 1966, he posted three seasons of sub-2.00 ERA, leading the National League in each season, and led the National League in wins three times. In fact, in 1963, 1965, and 1966, he led the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts, capturing pitching’s equivalent of the “Triple Crown.” (as a side note, his totals in each of those years would have led the American League as well, further evidencing his dominance during that period).

"Sandy Koufax," by Leon Jimenez

Koufax pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game, was selected as the Cy Young Award winner (there was only one for both leagues) in 1963, 1965, and 1966, and captured the NL MVP award in 1963, the last Jew to do so. Retiring at age 30 after only twelve seasons (ten full) due to recurring arm troubles, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.

Koufax also made the legendary decision not to pitch Game One of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. The Dodgers’ other superstar pitcher, Don Drysdale, took the mound for Los Angeles that day and did not pitch well, giving up seven runs in less than three innings. When manager Walt Alston came to the mound to replace him during the game, Drysdale remarked “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too.” In 1934, it should be noted, Greenberg also refused to play on Yom Kippur. He did, however, play on Rosh Hashana, receiving a rabbi’s blessing to play and slamming two home runs.

Those four players formed the veritable “Mount Rushmore” of Jewish ballplayers until the current era. There were other successes: Ken Holtzman was a key member of the 1970’s Oakland A’s champions (along with fellow Jew Mike Epstein) and threw two no-hitters during his career. Orioles’ pitcher Steve Stone captured the AL Cy Young Award in 1980. Other Jews were notable for various reasons, such as World War II spy Moe Berg and Ron Blomberg, who famously served as the first designated hitter in Major League history and later managed a team in the sole season of the Israeli Baseball League, winning a championship.

History is also replete with Jewish owners and front-office leaders, including current commissioner and former Brewer owner Bud Selig and a quarter of machers who currently serve as their team’s general managers Ruben Amaro, Jr. (Philadelphia), Jon Daniels (Texas), Theo Epstein (Chicago Cubs), and Andrew Friedman (Tampa Bay).

The three former players who are now supporting Israel’s bid for the World Baseball Classic are Brad Ausmus, Gabe Kapler, and Shawn Green.  A catcher who spent the majority of his career with Houston, Ausmus won three gold glove awards, was selected to the All-Star game in 1999, and stroked over 1,500 hits over his 18 big-league seasons. Kapler, who was once considered to be one of baseball’s best prospects and was nicknamed the “Hebrew Hammer,” toiled for six teams over a twelve-year career. Sporting various tattoos, including a Star of David tattoo on his left calf and a Holocaust-inspired tattoo on his right, his career was unfortunate example of unfulfilled potential. He did, however, enjoy some naches and celebrated as a member of the 2004 Red Sox championship team.

From left: Shawn Green, Gabe Kapler, Brad Ausmus

The best of these three is unquestionably Green. Over a fourteen-year career spent primarily with the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers, Green slammed 328 home runs, hit 445 doubles, and knocked in 1,070 runs. His 49 home runs in 2001 are the most ever by a Dodgers’ player, and he exceeded 40 homers in a season three times. A two-time All-Star, he also won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 1999.

The current crop of major leaguers, including the three All-Stars noted above, are the best group ever to be playing at one time. In his five seasons, Braun has already stroked 161 home runs and amassed 531 RBI’s to go along with his .312 batting average. Widely recognized as one of baseball’s premier players, he has been selected to the All-Star game and has been awarded baseball’s Silver Slugger award, given annually to the best hitters at each position.  Youkilis was a key member of the Red Sox 2007 championship team, has been a three-time All-Star, and a 2007 Gold Glove winner. Kinsler, along with fellow Jew Scott Feldman, has been a key member of the Rangers’ team that has advanced to the World Series in each of the past two years, and was selected to the All-Star game in 2008 and 2010. Both he and Braun were members of the “30/30 Club” (home runs and stolen bases).

Ian Kinsler and Kevin Youkilis (kicking up some schmutz)

And there are other notable Jewish players: Mets’ first baseman Ike Davis (his mother is Jewish) and Tampa Bay outfielder Sam Fuld are stars in the making, and Arizona pitcher Jason Marquis has won over 100 major league games.

Israel is one of 16 teams which has been invited to play in next year’s World Baseball Classic qualifying round, and the top four teams from that competition will advance to the 2013 WBC tournament. According to Israeli baseball officials, the Israeli team, if it were to qualify for the WBC, would seek to recruit Jewish professionals to play for the team. Green has also indicated his desire to again put on a uniform and play if asked, meaning that the Israeli team could possibly be set up as follows:

1B        Ike Davis
2B        Ian Kinsler
SS        Danny Valencia (the Twins’ third baseman would move to SS)
3B        Kevin Youkilis
OF       Ryan Braun
OF       Sam Fuld
OF       Shawn Green
C         Brad Ausmus (he is 42 and retired since 2009, but still the best option)
P          Jason Marquis/Scott Feldman

With the exception of the aged Ausmus, this would be a pretty formidable line-up. This minyan could contend with the Latin powerhouse teams of Venezuela and the Dominican Republic and, with a little bit of mazel, could unseat the two-time defending champs, Japan. If nothing else, a good showing by the team will allow Jews over the world to kvell over its accomplishments, and could go a long way toward erasing the stigma against Jews’ inability to excel in sports, as was so memorably stated in the movie Airplane. The heroics of the current crop of Jewish all-stars, I would urge, is certainly sufficient to fill much more than a light-reading leaflet.

Wolfenson with Hall of Famer Rod Carew (Photo by Mike Weiss)

 

Lest we forget: Al Davis

Posted on: October 10th, 2011 by Ron Kaplan

The dynamic and controversial owner of the Los Angeles Raiders died Saturday morning at the age of 82.

The tributes continue to pour in. Here’s one by Marc Tracey at Tablet, who notes that Davis was born on the Fourth of July and died on Yom Kippur.

KK chaver Ari was kind enough to pass long his thoughts on the NFL pioneer, whose philosophy — “Just win, baby” — was both a challenge and a millstone for those who worked under him.

The holiest and most solemn day of the Jewish calendar brought very somber news to the Jewish sports world.  Al Davis, the legendary “godfather” of the Oakland Raiders passed away Saturday at the age of 82.  I suppose you are never entirely shocked when someone in their eighties passes, but it is still an undeniably sad day, especially for Jewish sports fans like myself, and fans of football in general.  I was hoping Davis would still be around to see his Raiders make one last run at another Super Bowl.  Now that task will likely fall to his son, Mark, but the building blocks of the Raiders recent turnaround were still laid by Al, who worked diligently to rebuild his beloved team, right up to his death.

You could make the argument that Davis is the most important Jewish sports figure of all-time, clearly in the game of football.  No other owner that I can think of was as closely involved in the hands-on day to day operations of a team, all the way down to the uniform, logo, colors and all.  In his nearly 50 years with the franchise, Davis served as coach, GM, and owner.  You are almost certain never to see a sports figure serve in so many diverse capacities again.  Davis even took a brief leave of absence to serve as the commissioner of the AFL, where he was very influential in merging that league into the modern NFL.  In fact, you could make the argument that without an Al Davis there would be no AFC-NFC championship game each year, a little extravaganza known as the Super Bowl.

In recent years, as Davis grew frail and more reclusive, it became trendy among some fans and members of the media to disparage Davis’s greatness.  Turned into a caricature, he was ridiculed for sticking around too long and taken to task for living up to his renegade nature at every opportunity.  Certainly, through the years, Davis liked to do things his way.  He moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles and back in perhaps the most classic example.  He was known for consistently challenging the NFL’s hierarchy, often in litigation, and this continued to the end.  A small minority of associates have also said he could hold petty grudges, and judging by the Raiders fortunes on the field, maybe Al did lose a bit off his fastball prior to Oakland’s current mini-revival.

Still, those closest to Al Davis always sighted him for his generosity and compassion.  He was known for being colorblind and caring more about an individual’s ability than his or her demographic group.  As a trendsetter who broke barriers, he won two Super Bowls with a Hispanic Head Coach (at the time only the second in NFL history), and he hired the NFL’s first black head coach in Art Shell in 1989.  The Raiders also hired Amy Trask in 1997.  She currently serves as the team’s CEO and the NFL’s highest ranking female executive.  Moreover, during Davis’s tenure, no other NFL team employed more former players than the Raiders.  With rare exception, once you were part of the Raider family, that standing was permanent and you were always welcomed back.

In the end, the biggest compliment you could pay Al Davis might be that he lived up to the most inspirational of his famous slogans, “Just win, baby.” Looking back on a career that included three Super Bowl titles, two additional appearances, an AFL championship, and a winning percentage still among the game’s most elite franchises, it would be foolish to argue otherwise.  Davis will forever be remembered among the game’s immortals.

Given his body of work, I was kind of surprised that Davis (who is an alumnus of my high school) is not in either the National or International Jewish Sports Halls of Fame.

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It takes all kinds to make a world.

Posted on: August 25th, 2011 by Ron Kaplan

Rabbi Rachel Esserman of The Reporter, the Jewish paper out of Vestal, NY, posted this to the JTA Coop site.

Team rivalry

I have a confession to make: This past month I’ve actually looked at the baseball standings in the daily newspaper. I have not, thank goodness, gone as far as to watch a game of baseball, but I have regularly checked out which team was in first place in the American League. Since I usually claim that if I never read, saw or heard anything about sports ever again, I would live not only a contented, but very happy, life, this needs some explanation.

This awful habit is the fault of two people I know, whom I’ll refer to as Person A and Person B. Person A is a friend from my synagogue who is a big Yankees fan. I made the mistake once of telling her that while I don’t root for any particular team to win, I do root for the Yankees to lose. My Brooklyn-born father was a Dodgers fan (that is, until the bums moved to California) and he hated the Yankees, making me a second-generation Yankees hater. My parents also loved Broadway musicals and I can still sing lyrics from the show “Damn Yankees,” whose words echos those of Yankee haters everywhere (and which can’t be repeated in a family-friendly paper).

So Person A began to wear Yankee shirts and Yankee yarmulkes and Yankee caps and Yankee – you get the idea – whenever we got together. She also let me know the score of the games, checking frequently to see if the team was winning or losing. However, it was only when Person B entered the picture that things really started to heat up.
Person B works in my office and that means I face hearing about the Yankees on a daily basis. I also have to look at the Yankees logo on his notebooks and tissue box, which is placed prominently on his desk. When the Yankees lose, he’s in a miserable mood. When they win, he’s cheerful. When they won the World Series a few years ago, I had to listen to him gloat. What I discovered, though, was that he also has a team he hates: the Red Sox. So, as a joke, I started rooting for them. This really irritates him because at first I had to ask questions like, “The Red Sox are in Boston, aren’t they?” He knows I don’t really care, which he says makes my rooting for them even worse.

Fast forward to the current baseball season: Person A was reporting on a Yankees/Red Sox game and made the mistake of informing me that the teams were fighting for first place. Then I learned that the Sox had beat the Yankees and were now in sole possession of first place. So to have some fun, I began to slip the words “first place” into my conversations with Person B. Unfortunately, I then found myself looking at the standings on a regular basis. Yes, I was actually checking each day to see how the teams performed and how it affected their placement. Do note, though, that I still can’t name a single player on the Red Sox team or tell you anything else about them. It’s only the score and whether or not they are remain ahead of the Yankees that matters.

As I write this, the Yankees have moved back into first place (as Person B was happy to inform me). Since the Sox are still close, the standings could easily change. However, I’m hoping to break the habit of checking the sports section and return to my who-cares attitude, the one that makes it so much fun to tease Person B. Well, I might make an exception if the Sox win the World Series. That would be too hard to resist.

Oh, and before you think of inviting me to watch a baseball game in person or on TV, please note the question I’ll ask before accepting: Can I bring a book to read?

 

Guest column: Salita makes it three in a row

Posted on: April 14th, 2011 by Ron Kaplan

by Ron Ross

Utilizing a snapping left jab and rapid fire combinations, Dmitriy Salita thrilled his “congregation” at Oceana Hall in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn by outboxing, outpunching and outfighting his taller, rough-housing opponent, Ronnie Warrior of Oklahoma City, who came in with a 13-4-1 record.

Photos by Lisa Ross

The fight did not start off on a positive note for Salita. Just seconds into the opening frame of the scheduled eight-round bout, a clash of heads that resounded throughout the arena caused Salita to kneel on the canvas in obvious pain. The referee gave him time to shake off the effects and admonished Warrior. Dmitriy then came at his opponent snapping out a left jab and moved inside with a solid combination of blows to the body when Warrior, living up to his name, resorted to whatever weapon was available –– in this case a forearm smash to Salita’s head. This drew another strong warning from the referee.

At this point Dmitriy was aware that he was in with a bully-type brawler and set out to teach him a lesson and took charge, going after Warrior with three, four, and five punch combinations.

The Star of David’s speed, accuracy and ring craftsmanship had him totally dominate Warrior, who had no answer for his opponent’s boxing skill or punching volume. Other than the left jab there was no single punch output. For Salita it was “punches in bunches.” He would open his attack with a snapping left jab then move in behind it with a cluster-attack, whipping the left hook to the body, right to the body, left hook again, then right cross to the head.  His stamina never diminished. He began punching harder in the sixth round and had the crowd roaring its approval as he was banging away at Warrior with a  two-fisted onslaught at the final bell. It was a masterful performance that saw Salita sweep every round on two of the judges’ scorecards and the third giving Salita seven of the eight rounds.

Salita, weighing in at 149, is now 33-1-1. There is no question that his record and skill level warrant another shot at a world title. It may take a win over a “name” opponent to get that stamp of approval.

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Boxing aficionado Ron Ross is author of Bummy Davis vs. Murder, Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Mafia and an Ill-Fated Prizefighter.

Guest column: Farewell, Bruce

Posted on: March 22nd, 2011 by Ron Kaplan

Editor’s Note: Regular KK commentor Ari sent this along, so I thought I would post as a guest essay.

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The news of Bruce Pearl’s firing yesterday certainly comes as no surprise if you have followed the saga unfold since last summer, as well as the recent press around this story.  While it at first looked like the University of Tennessee would stand behind Bruce Pearl, it seems like a myriad of factors came into play to change their plans.  As a Jewish sports fan who has enjoyed following Pearl’s teams since his days at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I must admit I’m somewhat biased, but I honestly believe the punishment here doesn’t really fit the crime.  It looks like it was a pretty well concocted plan by some in the media, and certainly the NCAA, to stick it to Pearl.  It also serves as yet another example of how quickly a man’s fortunes can change.  You can seemingly go from being a beloved figure one day to a pariah the next.

From what I understand, the facts are pretty much these.  In 2008, Pearl violated NCAA rules by having a High School Junior over his house for a BBQ.  Reportedly, these kind of violations go on all the time and are considered somewhat secondary.  The rule states that you can have High School Seniors over for official recruiting functions, such as a BBQ, so technically Pearl was breaking a pretty harmless rule by a couple of months.  His biggest mistake was initially trying to cover up the BBQ, but apparently the NCAA had photos of the recruit in question at Pearl’s house, and showed them to Coach Pearl.  Pearl realized the gig was up and quickly changed course and admitted his infraction.

Some seem to think that Pearl’s initial inclination to lie to investigators should change a minor violation into a major one.  I don’t agree.  How many people who do something wrong immediately cop to it?  Few I would guess, as evidenced by the not guilty pleas we read about all the time, despite the often overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  I think Pearl should be given credit for at least coming forward and admitting his guilt, though I understand the argument that he had no choice.  Anyway, the bottom line is that I don’t believe misleading the NCAA should change a “misdemeanor” into a “felony” so to speak.  How do minor violations become major ones overnight?  It doesn’t work that way in a court of law, but apparently the NCAA operates by it’s own rules.

The NCAA continued to hound Pearl all season and then towards the end of the year they seem to have surprised Pearl and the University of Tennessee by announcing that they believed Pearl was guilty of additional violations, including illegally meeting another recruit this past season for a “few minutes,” after Pearl had issued an apology for the BBQ.  Again, this is also considered a minor violation that goes on regularly, but given the scrutiny Pearl was already under, it seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Since Pearl was already banned from off campus recruiting for a year, the new charges were added as “major” ones yet again.  The new allegations and increasing media pressure meant Pearl’s support within the University had eroded to the point where it was evidently now decided he would not return after all, despite months of University support to the contrary.  It is my understanding that Pearl strongly denies the new charges and was looking forward to defending himself at a hearing this coming summer.  Unfortunately, Tennessee lost their patience before then, and the NCAA gets their wish in the end, as Pearl is finally out.  Never mind that he had already been punished with both an eight game suspension by the SEC and a dock in pay.  In fact, Pearl actually was working this season without a contract, which sounds almost ludicrous.

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