‘Jewish Jocks’ goes beyond sports

‘Jewish Jocks’ editor  Franklin Foer and former NY Mets Major Leaguer Art Shamsky for a Jewish Book Festival event at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 at the JCC. For more details, see ChaiLights calendar on page 20.

By Morton I. Teicher

Taking great liberty with the term “jock,” the editors of the anthology, “Jewish Jocks” (Twelve Books, 2012. 304 Pages. $26.99) have broadened its meaning beyond the conventional understanding of the term as referring to a male athlete who is not very bright. Editors Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy add women, a chess player, announcers, writers, and others who are not actual competitors in sports. The result is a list of fifty people for each of whom there is an essay written by such talented individuals as Lawrence Summers, former secretary of treasury and president of Harvard, David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, Deborah Lipstadt and Rebecca Goldstein, noted Jewish scholars.  Foer’s younger brother, best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer, also contributes an essay. The editors of the book, Foer and Tracy, are associated with the New Republic as editor and staff member.

Inevitably, even with such talented authors, some of the essays are less interesting than others but this is a judgment to be made by individual readers who may or may not care to learn about gambler Arnold Rothstein who supposedly fixed the 1919 World Series. The definition of “Jewish jock” has to be stretched widely to include Rothstein. On the other hand, the liberal description of the term enables Foer and Tracy to introduce us to Whitey Bimstein, a “cutman” in boxing who made the transition from fighter to cornerman, training others and acting as their second during a fight, using cut-mending techniques in between rounds.

Bimstein, who lived from 1896 to 1969, not only had “the hands of a surgeon” but also imparted wisdom as to strategy while repairing injuries. Douglas Century, author of a biography of Barney Ross, wrote the essay about Bimstein, contrasting him with today’s seconds who are “little more than profane cheerleaders.” Readers will be grateful to Foer and Tracy for acquainting us with this little-known contributor to the history of boxing.

Far better known is what happened to the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Deborah Lipstadt adds to our knowledge of this tragic event, demonstrating once again that she is a foremost Jewish scholar.

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Baseball is well represented by Hank Greenberg, Al Rosen, and Sandy Koufax. Again stretching the definition of “jock,” Foer and Tracy include chapters on Marvin Miller, the recently deceased organizer of baseball players into a union that enabled them to earn high salaries and Bud Selig, who, in 2012, celebrated twenty years as commissioner.

The book also includes essays on bull-fighter Sidney Franklin, ping-pong wizard Marty Reisman, fencer Helene Mayer, football player Sidney Luckman, chess champion Bobby Fisher, swimmer Mark Spitz, tennis player Renee Richards, basketball coach Red Auerbach, among others.

The combination of interesting subjects who constitute what the editors call “an unorthodox hall of fame” with a group of fine writers makes this a book that will be treasured and enjoyed by Jewish sports fans.