(Taken from Mike Snyder's Blog)
Some people think there are two words that should never, ever go together under any circumstances: Jewish basketball.
Turns out Jews dominated American basketball in the early 20th century. Fresh off the boat from Europe, Jewish youth in poor, inner-city neighborhoods would shoot hoops in their leisure time. Soon Jewish basketball greats emerged from Philadelphia to form an all-Jew basketball team know as “the Hebrews,” or SPHAs—a kind of Jewish Globetrotters—which challenged and routinely beat their Anglo-American competition in thrilling matches that audiences paid a bundle to see. Who says Jews can’t play basketball?
Well, lots of people do. Lots of people also think Jews have no rhythm. That’s funny, considering that entertainment was another favorite means of pursuing the American Dream during the 20s and 30s. Jewish singers and actors like Al Jolson made lucrative careers performing on Broadway. Like today, athletics and show-biz were sure-fire ways of escaping inner-city poverty and destitution.
Perhaps this myth of Jewish athletic inferiority comes from entrenched stereotypes perpetuated by the larger society. The fact that people drop their jaws when they hear about Jewish basketball stars is a testament to this reality: with these talented role models hidden from television and our textbooks, no wonder Jews everywhere are left thinking they can’t compete in the sports arena. Apply this to other minority groups, and one might think there is a dearth of black intellectuals or successful Native Americans. But is it that these groups are intellectually inferior or incapable of functioning in society? Or are we (and they) simply mired in our own ignorance and preconceptions, unable to remove the lens that society has ever-so-carefully placed over our eyes?
Of course, when people first hear about the Hebrews, the natural and appropriate response is, “Wait a second! Jews are short!” Since I am not a geneticist, I cannot make an informed commentary about the variation within the Jewish gene pool (though we must remember that there is more genetic variation between any two members of a given ethnicity than there is between a member of one ethnicity and a member of another ethnicity). Suffice it to say that Jews were not exceptional basketball players because of their height or jumping abilities, but because of their quickness and coordination. Granted, this is a stereotype all its own, and some Anglo-Americans explained Jewish basketball dominance by lambasting the Jewish race with negative traits like “cunning,” “shrewd,” “mischievous,” and “tricky.” Sound familiar? Who hasn’t heard the woefully derogatory belief that “blacks are good at basketball” because they are natural brutes or naturally aggressive? A shame, too, that the successes of these groups are attributed solely to their “natural” abilities, as if they didn’t work a day in their life.
And because I know you still don’t believe me…
Posted by Mike Snyder on February 22, 2007 12:22 PM