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Jewish Athletes
From left: Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Jim Schwartz (Photo Courtesy of Detroit Lions)

What’s in a Name?

It’s been two years since the Lions announced the hiring of head coach Jim Schwartz. Do you remember those heady first days, two years ago this month, when the Lions announced his hire? Do you remember what crossed your mind?

Jewish Athletes

From left: Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, Jim Schwartz (Photo Courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Perhaps questions such as: Who was this new guy? Was he the real deal? Where did this Schwartz fella go to shul on Shabbat?

Was this finally it — a Jew in the head coach’s position? What were his Jewish roots, anyway? Did he even consider himself Jewish? Would he be found at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve?

Arguably, the particulars weren’t important; any link we could have hung our kippot on would do. With hope, many of us scoured the Internet, Googling phrases like “Jim Schwartz Jewish?”

Those search results included a gem of a site called, where the fantasy of Moshiach (the Messiah) coming to Motown under the guise of a “chosen” head coach came to its crushing end — Schwartz has a son named Christian!

An online column at the time even poked fun at the searches with a photo caption of Schwartz that read, “Why are so many people Googling my name to find out if I’m Jewish?”

We’ll tell you why: because Jewish football fans are starved for someone to root for. Sure, it’s nice that the team doctors may have names ending in “-stein” or “-berg,” but we want more than just professionals to root for — we want athletes.

That’s why we Jews lay claim to athletes the way China asserts sovereignty over any nearby island off its shores: If you seem like a good addition, if your ancestors belonged to the tribe in the recent or distant past, if you have Jewish in-laws (not so much a Chinese “must”) — welcome to the tribe! While athletes are our No. 1 pick, coaches will do.

This is how excitement spread over NBA All-Star Amare Stoudemire’s self- proclaimed Jewish roots, and how “hall-of-famer Rod Carew” wound up in Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” as a Jew, despite the fact he never actually converted. He apparently married a Jew, raised his kids Jewish and wore a Chai — it was good enough for us.

Despite the curiosity about Schwartz, there were not nearly as many Google searches to find out if starting linebacker DeAndre Levy and recently released Lions linemen Joe Cohen and Landon Cohen are Jews — probably because you rarely see 300-pound black men lighting menorahs — and you’re more likely to find a Jew named Christian Smith than DeAndre anything.

It’s unfortunate that Schwartz isn’t Jewish, because finishing another disappointing season — one entered with real ruach (spirit) — we felt compelled to shout secular curses at the TV when Schwartz mismanaged the clock.

It could have been fun to yell things like “…you mamzer shmendrick fershtinkuhner!” after Shwartz failed to call a vital timeout. It’s been six decades since a Jewish sports star has taken Detroit to the Promised Land, when Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg led us to victory in two of the four World Series he played in the 1930s and ’40s.

Nearly three decades have passed since Detroit won its last Series. Now, the young and promising Tigers have given fans hope. Max Scherzer was one of the best pitchers in baseball for the second half of the 2010 season.

And, when Scherzer started heating up, so did buzz about his rumored Judaism. Once again, Internet posts appeared asking whether this Tiger was, in fact, a member of the tribe.

While this writer could not verify it, with a shnozz like Scherzer’s, the prospect that his grandmother may or may not call him “Maxela” and a nasty pitching arsenal, he may join Stoudemire and Carew as an honorary Jew. After all, as Stoudemire said recently in an interview, “Through history, we all are [Jewish].” RT



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