The Jewish athlete ‘dilemma’

The Jewish athlete ‘dilemma’

The Washington Capitals were eliminated from contention for the NHL Stanley Cup last month and with them, the chance for Andre Burakovsky, a 21-year-old left-winger, to join the ranks of the handful of Jews who have played in the sport’s Tiffany event.

But not so fast. Although several outfits that keep track of such things have listed him as a MOT (member of the tribe) since he entered the league last year, the Austrian-born Burakovsky vehemently denied such a connection when he tweeted: “no one of nu parents are jewish, so It’s not true!” (sic).

The Jewish Sports Review, a bimonthly print publication, had identified Burakovsky as Jewish. According to their mission statement, JSR “[V]erifies and ‘fact checks’ the Jewish background of every athlete listed.” In response to repeated inquiries by Kaplan’s Korner, NJJN’s sports blog, about Burakovsky’s remarks, JSR stood by their decision. 

They pitch a wide tent, holding a much more liberal point of view on inclusion than the halachic stricture of matrilineal descent. They clearly make no bones about it when they state they are “NOT a religious journal.” For JSR’s purposes, “an athlete is Jewish if they have at least one Jewish parent, do not practice another faith, and identify ethnically as a Jew. An athlete with at least one Jewish parent is excluded only if they were raised in or converted to another faith or express a disinclination to be included in JSR.” (The magazine had identified Burakovsky’s father, also a professional hockey player, as Jewish.) Given their track record, that’s usually been good enough. 

So what are Jewish sports fans to make of this? All the research that might point to the contrary notwithstanding, should they continue to hold Burakovsky “hostage,” regardless of his desires not to be counted among the small number of professional Jewish athletes? After all, it’s his life. Shouldn’t a person be free to make that determination? Or, as gruesome history has claimed, does one drop of Jewish blood make one a Jew, regardless of level of observation or self-identification?

Are Jewish sports fans so desperate that we can’t conceive of giving up “one of our own?”

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