ABSTRACT

The above epigraphs capture the defining themes of a discourse about sports and Jews: dismissal and erasure. For many, sports are seen as outside the scope of Jewish American history and culture. Within current scholarly literature there is ample examination of the ways in which popular culture has influenced American Jewish identity formation, impacted assimilation and acculturation during the twentieth century, and otherwise been central to the history of Jews (Bial 2005; Buhle 2004; Epstein 2002; Melnick 2001; Rogin 1998; Gabler 1989). The scant scholarly inquiries into sports and Jews have, for the most part, sought to correct this historical erasure, highlighting successful Jewish athletes. However the focus on Jewish athletic pioneers and the emphasis on athletic success within much of the literature (Slater 2005; Siegman 2005; Silverman 2004) erases the power of sports as a space where racial, ethnic, class, gender, and national meanings are staged, contested, and created. Stephen Riess explains this absence as the result of ubiquitous anti-Semitic stereotypes. “One

reason for this lack of interest was that Jews were historically stereotyped as physically weak, unfit, and intellectual rather than athletic and brawny” (Riess 1998: 1-2). Jews and non-Jews alike propagated these stereotypes, solidifying antipathy between sports and a Jewish identity. By the 1930s, the acceptance of this race/ethnic-based logic was evident on the sports pages. Fred Lieb, a commentator with The Sporting News, wrote in 1935 that, “Jewish boys are smaller than kids who sprang from other races. The Jewish boy was pushed aside on the playground diamond by the bigger youth with an Irish, German, or Scandinavian name” (Rosengren 2013: 187). Acknowledging Jewish success in boxing but not baseball, Lieb deployed anti-Semitic logic to explain this sporting reality:

For centuries the Jew, in his individual business, had to fight against heavy odds for his success. It sharpened his wit and made him quick with his hands. Therefore he became an individualist in sport, and skillful boxer and ring strategist, but he did not have the background to stand out in a sport which is so essentially a team game as baseball.