This past week, a college basketball team was involved in a big Kiddush Hashem.
An op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal praised the Yeshiva University Maccabees, not because they’re extremely successful on the court (which they are), but because they represent Yiddish values.
The article by Masada Siegel, entitled “The Kippahs on the Yeshiva University Basketball Court”, praises team members for sticking to their values and openly wearing yarmulkes on the court. The author noted that her six year old son noticed the players wearing yarmulkes on television, and said it was “so cool.”
The article went on to highlight the challenges and sacrifices made by athletes who want to make it to the big leagues while keeping Shabbos, Kashrus, and other halachos.
Siegel quoted YU’s athletic director Greg Fox who said, “Ryan Turell, one of our star players, turned down Division I schools such as West Point to come play here, because Judaism in addition to basketball also plays a central role in his life.”
Mr. Turell himself told ESPN that he wants to be the first Orthodox Jew in the NBA. “I want to show kids like me it could be done,” he said. “I want to be a Jewish sports hero.”
The head coach of the Maccabees, Elliot Steinmetz, has a son, Jacob, who made big headlines this year when he was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Interestingly, some commenters on the article pointed out a big difference between religious Jewish athletes and others who represent a different set of values. They observed that the Yeshiva students are showcasing their religion in a low-key, respectful way, whereas some professional athletes feel the need to make vocal and outlandish statements, including disrespecting the national anthem, and using rhetoric that is hateful and divisive.