Bagels and Jocks: A Weekly Examination of the Jewish Sports World- Monday, November 26, 2012
In a somewhat slow Jewish sports week, I ran across an interesting column about Tebowing and the lack of similar Jewish on-field gestures of celebration and gratitude. I will offer my own comments after paying tribute to an athlete who isn’t often in the spotlight.
ADAM PODLESH FINDS THE END ZONE
Prior to Sunday’s 28-10 victory over their division rival Minnesota Vikings, ADAM PODLESH mostly went about his job quietly. As a punter, he usually does not merit much notice unless he badly shanks a kick, gets one blocked, or has one returned for a touchdown. Every now and then, a punter will absolutely boom one that will inspire oohs and ahhs from the crowd, but generally speaking, a punter goes about his business in relative obscurity.
A case in point: Former Oakland Raiders great Ray Guy, who regularly inspired those gasps of wonder from the crowd, has not been voted into the NFL Hall of Fame, nor has any other player who was primarily a punter. As punters go, Podlesh, a six-year veteran from the University of Maryland, would be considered middle-of-the-road: good enough to keep his job but not highly regarded enough to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl.
In yesterday’s game, Podlesh punted the ball quite well—four times for a 43.3 yard average with two downed inside the Vikings’ 20. He garnered headlines here for what he did when holding the ball on field goal attempts. Yes, the holder only gets noticed when he drops a snap or makes an amazing catch and hold of a bad snap. Prior to yesterday, the former Terrapin was credited with a total of two “runs” of minus-two yards. In his entire pro career. He had also, once, attempted a pass which was incomplete. It’s hard to know if any of these statistical aberrations were by design or desperation. Otherwise, he has now punted the ball a total of 368 times and held the ball…quietly…for a bunch of field goal and extra-point attempts.
And so it was, with the Bears leading 16-3, that Podlesh knelt down (we’ll discuss other types of kneel-downs later) to hold for placekicker Robbie Gould’s extra point. But why would this hold be different from all other holds? Instead of catching it and spinning the laces away at the optimal angle, Podlesh saw an opening and ran it between his center and left tackle into the end zone. Score two points for the Bears–the first two of Podlesh’s career.
In lieu of a youtube video, here is a quick snippet about it, with video available, from sbnation.com. If you’re looking for another Jewish connection here, you may notice a rather large teammate wearing #72 who threw a block for the running punter and was the first to congratulate him in the end zone. That would be offensive tackle and fellow “tribesman” Gabe Carimi. Nicely done, boys.
A thought-provoking guest blog titled A Few Thoughts on Jews, Sports and Tebowing, (penned by David Stanley and Rabbi Mark Goldfarb ran on rj.org (the blog site for News and Views of Reform Jews) last Monday.
The piece frames some interesting questions—in the authors’ own words:
It’s fall, and we’ve just passed World Series time. What happens every time a player from the mainly Catholic Caribbean comes to the plate? He makes the sign of the cross. Fall also means soccer. The last gesture made as a Catholic player runs onto the pitch? Again, the sign of the cross…We Jews don’t do those things. Why not?
The authors explain that ours is anything but a proselytizing faith, and while our religion is certainly one of powerful rituals and symbols, we don’t advertise it to the outside world, and we don’t ask G-d or give thanks to Him for athletic triumphs. One more section from this piece:
In a moment of creative Midrash, you might, in the words of Bill Nye the Science Guy, “consider the following”: Perhaps the most important reason why Jewish athletes haven’t developed a score-winning, Jewish-themed movement for the individual athlete to perform is the Jewish emphasis on community. Though the individual athlete may very well have scored the goal, touchdown, run, or points, none of this is possible without other team members doing their part. Rather than emphasize the achievement of the individual athlete, Jewish athletes choose to emphasize the role of the team and the community, not of themselves.
Is it time? Do we need a Jewish signal? With intermarriage and conversions and the decline of local temple life, would it be a good thing to let our Jewish athletes loudly and proudly proclaim their Jewishness on the playing field in moments of triumph?
There is some good food for thought here, and one of the first things I thought about was that a great Hall of Fame baseball player named Wade Boggs used to draw a “chai” in the on-deck circle before stepping into the batter’s box. It obviously worked: The man won five American League batting titles in his first six eligible seasons. He, allegedly, also ate chicken before every game. Oh yes, he wasn’t Jewish.
A reader beat me to the punch in replying to the piece. He noted that the strongest symbol or religious gesture was actually offered off the field. The legendary SANDY KOUFAX, the greatest pitcher in the game, sat out the first game of the 1965 World Series in order to observe Yom Kippur. That was, and remains, a powerful message for so many Jewish and non-Jewish fans alike. A generation prior, HANK GREENBERG had also sat out games that conflicted Yom Kippur.
Those decisions aside, there have certainly been other moments where athletes have proudly displayed their heritage to the world. United States Gymnast ALY RAISMAN famously struck gold in the 2012 Olympics floor exercise, soaring through the air to the infectious rhythm of Hava Nagila. Jewish boxers, such as Mike Rossman, Barney Ross and Max Baer, wore the mogen david on their trunks, and “Star of David” tattoos have been sported by football and baseball players.
With that said, it is hard to remember a Jewish “signal” being employed, a la quarterback Tim Tebow’s famous pose (more so last year when he actually played, of course) or various baseball players, including the great Albert Pujols pointing skyward after one of his numerous hits.
Truthfully, it is a point of pride when a leading Jewish athlete does show obvious pride in their faith. But, do we need a gesture or a “glory be to G-d” speech after a victory or notable individual achievement? I would tend to say “no”, especially if such a gesture would seem to almost trivialize G-d’s presence in the universe and the deeper meaning behind our prayers.
Here’s where it is tricky. While all of the glorification of Jesus can sometimes be uncomfortable for me to watch during or after a sporting event, I generally admire many of the players who do so. Tim Tebow is going through a tough season as a New York Jet, but I have always respected his indomitable spirit, tremendous character and personal humility. He seems very sincere in his beliefs. The same can be said for Albert Pujols, who may be my favorite MLB player since entering the league in 2001. While I could do without the gestures, he also seems to be a man of tremendous sincerity and integrity. And yes, he hits the holy heck out of a baseball.
One more example: The late Reggie White, aka The Minister of Defense, used to terrorize opposing ball carriers and quarterbacks as arguably the most ferocious, intimidating defensive end of all-time. After games, he would regularly kneel down and pray with teammates and opponents alike. Did I care for it? Well, I got used to it, and also accepted that he was a good man and a gentle giant off the field who did a lot of good in the community. Yes, it didn’t hurt that he played most of his Hall of Fame seasons for my long-suffering Philadelphia Eagles.
After reading this piece, one question I ask myself and fellow readers is this: Would I… would you…be as accepting of a Jewish player doing the equivalent gestire of a Tebow, a Pujols or a Reggie White? And not so incidentally, what would those equivalent gestures be?
On that introspective note, it is time to sign off from today’s edition of Bagels and Jocks. See you next Monday right here. Please feel free to share some dialogue below. If you would like to bring another Jewish athlete, mover-and-shaker (or issue) to my attention, please reply below or contact me by e-mail.
For information about Matt’s books, sports columns, speaking events and requests for appearances and custom writing, please visit www.tipofthegoldberg.com, or contact him via email. You are invited to like his new Facebook Fan Page (“to like, to like, l’chayim”), which can be found right here.
About the Author: An author, speaker and custom writer from Cherry Hill, NJ, Matt loves to entertain people through his writing and public speaking. Laughs, Smiles and just enough Wisdom reach his audience through the magic of his written and spoken words. More about Matthew