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September 7, 2016 10:26 am

NFL Player Talks About ‘High Standards’ for Jewish Athletes; Explains Why Few Members of the Tribe Play Football


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Offensive liner Geoff Schwartz. Photo: Twitter.

Offensive liner Geoff Schwartz. Photo: Twitter.

An NFL offensive lineman talked on Tuesday about the pressure of being a Jewish athlete and why very few members of the tribe are professional football players.

Geoff Schwartz said on The Brian Lehrer Show that there is a “high standard” people believe athletes with Jewish roots have to “live up to” in regards to keeping Judaism. He referenced former baseball player Sandy Koufax, who famously refused to pitch in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Schwartz, who used to play for the Detroit Lions and New York Giants, explained on the radio show that a move like Koufax’s would not be acceptable in the NFL.

“It’s different in football,” he said. “In college you have 12 [football] games a year; in the NFL you have 16. You train for six months for this opportunity, so it’s hard to be starting off as an offensive lineman and then [you] tell your coach, ‘Hey, I’m not gonna be here this week to play a game.’ It doesn’t really work that way.”

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He said he decided early on in his career — after missing a game when he played for the University of Oregon — that he would not longer do that.

Schwartz was raised in a conservative Jewish household, The Algemeiner previously reported. He said his parents only allowed him and his brother Mitchell, who is an offensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs, to play football after they were finished with their bar mitzvah studies at the age of 13. Geoff — who was teased by fans last year for playing on Rosh Hashanah — said in the past he has fasted on Yom Kippur, and invited his college and NFL teammates to celebrate Hanukkah with him.

When asked why there are there so few Jews in the NFL, Geoff replied, “Because most of us aren’t built like this. You have to be blessed with a certain body type, obviously, and most of us don’t look like my brother and me.”

The brothers recently released a book they co-authored, called Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith, in which Geoff wrote that his mom at first worried she would be a “bad Jewish mother” if she let her sons play football. The offensive guard explained on Tuesday, “Jewish mothers are very protective. They don’t want their kids to get harmed, and I fully get it. But then I think my father told my mom that I’m the one inflicting the pain, and then she kind of settled down a little bit.”

He added, “She would be OK with it if we were just lawyers.”

Geoff said he never encountered antisemitism or discrimination in the NFL, but had teammates who wanted to know more about Judaism. He said, “They’re curious, ask questions and I provide answers…I did have a buddy tell me one time that I was the first Jewish guy he had ever met.”

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