Books by Steven A. Riess

Released: July 15, 1998

paper 0-8156-2761-0 Aiming to debunk the stereotype that American Jews and sports are somehow alien to each other, this well-intentioned yet dry collection of essays often unintentionally underscores the myth that the "Chosen People" are the last picked when anyone's choosing up sides. In his introductory essay, Riess (History/Northeastern Illinois Univ., and former editor of the Journal of Sport History) notes that Jewish Americans "were considered the people of the book, rather than men and women of the bat." By covering such topics as "Tough Jews: The Jewish American Boxing Experience," "Jewish American Women, Jewish Organizations, and Sports," and "Our Crowd at Play, The Elite Jewish Country Club in the 1920s,— the book's contributors bring overlooked facets of the sporting life—particularly the assimilative effect of sports—into the light of day. Unfortunately, however, Jewish athleticism is sometimes stridently defended by the authors, making the involvement of the casual Jewish athlete appear to be little more than dilettantism. More persuasive are the examinations of prominent Jewish professional athletes, and of anti-Semitism in the pro sporting ranks. In the essay "Hank Greenberg," William M. Simons explores the Bronx-reared Detroit Tigers slugger's significance to American Jews in the 1930s and '40s. Quoting another writer, Simons notes that Greenberg "belonged to a race of victors, not victims." While Greenberg is certainly worthy of attention and praise, the exclusion of other Jewish pros, such as Sandy Koufax (who heralded both more widespread Jewish cultural acceptance and the shift of American power from east to west), punches holes in the anthology's overall credibility. Further hampering its discussion of Jews in sport is the attention paid to Jews as team owners, sports writers, and promoters, without any discussion of the other side of the coin—Jewish sports labor pioneers, such as baseball's Marvin Miller. Despite such shortcomings, that this book's title sounds like a punchline is perhaps the best argument for the need for just such a study. Read full book review >