By Jacob Gurvis
Happy Friday, Jewish Sport Report readers! And it’s a happy Friday indeed, because baseball season is upon us.
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training next week, the games begin Feb. 24 and the 2023 World Baseball Classic is less than one month away.
If you close your eyes, you can almost smell the fresh-cut grass and hear the crack of the bat.
The WBC begins March 8, and the official rosters for all 20 teams were announced Thursday night.
Here is Team Israel’s full roster — which features an unprecedented 15 Jewish players with MLB experience.
And this weekend, a new documentary on the team, “Israel Swings for Gold,” will premiere at a film festival in Atlanta. I spoke to the director about the film.
A Jewish guide to Super Bowl Sunday
Before we fully dive into baseball season, this weekend is, of course, all about the Super Bowl.
While there won’t be any Jewish players on the field when the Kansas City Chiefs face the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday in Phoenix, there are still plenty of Jewish angles to the game.
First, there’s Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie, both of whom are Jewish.
Roseman is a New Jersey native who has worked for the Eagles since 2000. Lurie, a film producer from Boston, bought the Eagles in 1994.
During the DeSean Jackson antisemitism controversy in 2020, during which the then-Eagles star posted (and then deleted) antisemitic quotes online, Jackson apologized personally to Roseman and Lurie.
For Jewish Eagles fans, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philly is selling Eagles (and Chiefs) mezuzahs.
But some Jewish fans are feeling conflicted about the big game — with longstanding concerns renewed after Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after an onfield hit last month.
“Although Hamlin’s medical crisis was a rare on-field occurrence, the trauma surrounding his collapse stirred up age-old questions for me, and for many of us, about the toll football takes on the bodies of its players,” Rabba Yaffa Epstein writes in a JTA essay. “What are we allowing to happen to these young men, in the name of sportsmanship, entertainment and national identity? When the Super Bowl airs on Sunday, what is our responsibility as spectators?”
Epstein, a scholar and educator with the Jewish Education Project, explores what Jewish tradition has to say about this dilemma — and offers a path forward for Jewish fans who still want to enjoy the game. You can read her piece here.
And if you do plan to watch the game, our friends at The Nosher suggest some Jewish inspiration for your Super Bowl snacks.
GOLDEN. Israeli judoka Gili Sharir won a gold medal at the Paris Grand Slam judo tournament last weekend, and Gefen Primo won bronze. Israel has long been a judo powerhouse.
THE AMAZINS. New York Mets owner Steve Cohen is doing things his own way — including spending more money than anyone else. Cohen offered a rare interview to ESPN’s Jeff Passan this week, sharing insight into his plan to change baseball in New York and beyond. Check it out.
KINSLER RETURNS TO TEXAS. Former All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler is in high demand. The 2018 World Champion is managing Team Israel in next month’s WBC, and he’s also now working for his old team, the Texas Rangers, as a special assistant to the general manager.
NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN. Mat Ishbia, the Jewish billionaire who bought the Phoenix Suns and Mercury from suspended Jewish owner Robert Sarver, has officially taken the reins of his new NBA franchise. He made it clear right away that he will prioritize fixing the team’s workplace culture, according to ESPN.
Kyrie Irving has Jewish family?
NBA star Kyrie Irving is now a Dallas Maverick, but he didn’t leave the drama of his antisemitism scandal behind in New York.
Irving was traded to Dallas, a team owned by Mark Cuban, who is Jewish and had spoken out during Irving’s controversy last year. Cuban said the eight-time All-Star was “not educated about the impact” of his online platform.
At a press conference with his new team on Tuesday, Irving was asked why he deleted his apology post — which at the time was viewed as a critical step toward him returning from his suspension.
“I delete things all the time and it’s no disrespect to anyone within the community,” Irving said.
Irving said he stood by his apology. But he also shared some new information about his family.
“I stand by who I am and why I apologized. I did it because I care about my family and I have Jewish members of my family that care for me deeply,” Irving said. “Did the media know that beforehand, when they called me that word — antisemitic? No. Did they know anything about my family? No. Everything was assumed.”
It’s unclear which members of Irving’s family are Jewish, or if he is expressing the Black Hebrew Israelite ideology promoted in the film he shared, which includes the claim that African Americans are the genealogical descendants of the ancient Israelites.
Jews in sports to watch this weekend
🏒 IN HOCKEY…
Jakob Chychrun and the Arizona Coyotes play the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET. Chychrun has been a frequent subject of rumors with the NHL trade deadline approaching on March 3. Saturday is an action-packed day in the NHL — Quinn Hughes, Zach Hyman, Adam Fox, Chychrun, Jack Hughes and Jason Zucker are all playing.
🏀 IN BASKETBALL…
Deni Avdija and the Washington Wizards host the Indiana Pacers Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. Ryan Turell and the Motor City Cruise face the Oklahoma City Blue tonight and tomorrow, both at 7 p.m. ET.
⛳ IN GOLF…
Max Homa will look to keep the momentum going this weekend at the Phoenix Open. Homa announced this week that he will join Tiger Woods’ TGL league in 2024, a partnership with the PGA Tour. David Lipsky, who grew up just miles away from Homa, will also be on the green in Phoenix.
Hut, hut, hora
The New England Patriots may not be playing in the Super Bowl, but owner Robert Kraft still had plenty to celebrate this week. Here he is at a Chabad wedding event in Boston for couples from the former Soviet Union who were not able to have Jewish ceremonies there.