WINNIPEG — Goldberg, Gould, and Bloom not Jewish? There goes the name-game out the window – at least when it comes to identifying NFLathletes by their surnames.
Identifying Jews, whether in the movies or on the playing field, has always been a challenging task, especially when for a variety of reasons they have opted to change their names. For instance, did you know that Lee Grant’s real name was Lyova Geisman? Or that Jane Seymour was Joyce Penelope Frankenburg; that comedian George Burns’s true moniker was Nathan Birnbaum; and that Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan? Go figure.
Identifying Jews in the National Football League is no walk in the park these days, either. But it has less to do with name-altering than it has to do with defining “Who is a Jew?”
Liberal, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews all have their own criteria for defining who is Jewish, and that often leads to confusion, especially when some of today’s athletes are of mixed parentage. It is, of course, less of a dilemma if a player has a Jewish mother, but even then, there is always the possibility of parental conversion (and thus more debate). Consider also that a child may never have been raised as a Jew, regardless of the religion of the child’s mother or father.
A reporter can easily be led astray. Take last year, for instance, when I concluded that Adam Goldberg, a linebacker with the St. Louis Rams was Jewish, when in fact only his father was and Goldberg was raised in his mother’s Christian faith.
Nate Bloom, a prominent U.S. columnist who writes about Jewish celebrities, also made clear to me that kicker Robbie Gould of the Chicago Bears is not Jewish, and that recently cut Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver Jeremy Bloom has a Jewish father, but that Jeremy was primarily raised by his mom and became a devout Christian in high school.
So, taking into account the aforementioned pitfalls, let’s examine the pro football class of 2008.
The San Diego Chargers boast a pair of players who have a Jewish connection.
David Binn, 36, the son of a Jewish father, is a 15-year veteran who is the all-time Charger leader in career games played. The team’s long snapper, who stands 6-3 and weighs 225 pounds, played college ball at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was also a linebacker. Binn, with his speed, can also cover on punts and is the last remaining player from San Diego’s lone Super Bowl team. He was honoured with a spot on the 2007 Pro Bowl team.
His teammate, defensive end Igor Olshansky, 26, is the first Russian-born player in the NFL. The 2004 second-round draft pick (number 35 overall) has a Jewish day school background and is married to a Jewish woman. The 6-6, 309-pound graduate of the University of Oregon played in all 16 games last year and was even a starter in his rookie season. He sports two Star of David tattoos and has been described as possessing a combination of size, speed and brains. Also, his bench pressing skills are such that he has been described as being “as strong as an ox.”
Center/guard Lennie Friedman, 31, of the Cleveland Browns is 6-3 and weighs in at 295 pounds. The 10-year-NFL veteran, who is a Duke graduate, played in all 16 Browns’ games in 2007. The second-round pick by the Denver Broncos has also donned a uniform for the Redskins and Bears. In 2004, Friedman was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
Punter Adam Podlesh, 25, was a 2007 fourth-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played in all 16 games in his rookie season. The 5-11, 198-pound kicker, who averaged 41.6 yards last year, is described as being “good at pinning it close to the goal line,” which of course gives the Jaguars advantageous field position following punts. Already, the Maryland Terrapins’ graduate has been elected to the Rochester, N.Y., Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Sage Rosenfels, 30, a backup quarterback with the Houston Texans, is the son of a Jewish father. Drafted by the Washington Redskins, the 6-4, 225-pound fourth round pick in 2001 played his college ball at Iowa State. While Texans’ signal caller Matt Schaub is supposedly No. 1, coach Gary Kubiak labeled Rosenfels as 1A. Rosenfels, who yearns to be the starter, reportedly gets rid of the ball quickly and hits his receivers on time and on target. He threw six more TD passes than Schaub last year.
Chicago Bears’ defensive tackle Antonio Garay, 28, the son of a Jewish mother, appears to have an uncertain future, football-wise. According to the Chicago Sun Times, Garay, who weighs 300 pounds and stands 6-4, has been told by team management that he’s no longer in their plans. Antonio is presently rehabbing his right leg after breaking it on an illegal block by a Redskins’ player. Chicago will continue to pay him.
Punter Josh Miller, 38, was cut by the Tennessee Titans in late August and is not present on any other team’s roster. Miller began his career in the Canadian Football League with the Baltimore Stallions and then went on to the NFL, playing mainly for the Steelers, and later the Patriots and Titans. With 12 years experience, Miller may yet gain employment when injuries begin to mount.
Tight end Mike Seidman, 27, appears to be out of football for the time being. He spent last season with the Indianapolis Colts, but his career has been wracked by multiple knee injuries. The last setback was a torn ACL a year ago.
Mike Rosenthal, 31, a onetime offensive tackle with the Giants, Vikings and last year with the Dolphins, is reportedly a sports radio talk show host with ESPN radio in Austin, Texas.