By Zach Helfand – The New Yorker
Last fall, after the New York Jets won their second game of the 2017 N.F.L. season, the comedian Larry David called a sports talk-radio show. One of the guests congratulated him, “Your Jets are doing great!”
David’s voice turned frantic. “Oh, God!” he said. “Please! What’s wrong with them?”
“Wait, you won two games!”
“No!” he said. “I don’t want to win any games!”
David wanted the Jets to tank, so that the team could secure a better draft pick. The host asked David which of the top quarterback prospects he was hoping for: U.S.C.’s Sam Darnold or U.C.L.A.’s Josh Rosen. “I gotta go with the Jew,” David replied.
Jewish sports fans are, in my experience, a patient bunch, but the wait for an athlete like Rosen has been particularly long. Rosen is the son of a Jewish father and a Quaker mother. He had a bar mitzvah but attended a Catholic high school, where he went to weekly mass and gave confession twice a semester.
Since Sid Luckman, who threw his last pass in 1950, there hasn’t been a star Jewish quarterback in the N.F.L. There have been hardly any Jewish quarterbacks in the N.F.L. at all. Historically, the position has mostly been reserved for a very specific sort of person: white, Christian, preferably blue-collar. If he can passably appear in a commercial for Wrangler jeans, all the better. (No quarterback has fit the mold as well as the longtime Green Bay Packer Brett Favre.) Black quarterbacks especially have been excluded—something worth keeping in mind as the N.F.L. continues to effectively blackball Colin Kaepernick in response to his protests of police shootings of black Americans—though their numbers have increased in recent years. The former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy told me, “When I was coming into the league, the question was: Could a team rally around someone who didn’t necessarily look like them, or what they thought he should look like?” Last year, two Ph.D. students at Penn State “found substantial racial differences in the language used to describe quarterback prospects.” Scouting reports are more likely to find that white quarterbacks “fit the prototype” and are “leaders,” while black quarterbacks are “athletic” but have “deficits.”
What about Jewish passers? Jay Fiedler, the last Jewish quarterback to start regularly, told me he wasn’t treated any differently for his religion. And there are a number of Jewish owners in the league. But the scouting evaluations of Rosen seem to reflect familiar stereotypes. He has been described as too smart. He is not tough enough. He is not blue-collar enough. His teammates hate him. Recently, the sports commentator Tony Kornheiser said that the “whisper campaign” against Rosen was “absolutely classic anti-Semitism.” Kornheiser took particular offense at a suggestion that Rosen is too rich to love the game. “Too rich? What? . . . He’s out there getting his brains kicked in in college, and he wants to play pro ball!”