Academic journal article Shofar

To Play or Pray? Shawn Green and His Choice over Atonement

Academic journal article Shofar

To Play or Pray? Shawn Green and His Choice over Atonement

Article excerpt

Examining the specific reaction and context of meaning for Shawn Greens yearly internal battle between religious/personal commitments and job/team, and the historic context of Hank Greenberg's similar battles, this paper reflects on the complex and sometimes contradictory place of Jewishness within both the realms of popular and sporting cultures. In looking at the ways Shawn Green, the Los Angeles Dodgers, sports commentators, and fans have reacted to his Jewishness, and specifically his decision to skip games because of his religious cultural identity, this paper equally gives voice to the signifiers/discourse of Jewish (white) intrusion into the sports world. In exploring this discourse, this paper explores the meaning of Jewish celebrity within contemporary sports, analyzing the meaning and signifiers of Jewishness, whiteness, and celebrity within this popular cultural space.

During the 2001 Major League Baseball season, Shawn Green made news by announcing that he would skip a Dodgers game in observance of Yom Kippur. In the midst of a record-breaking season, this choice received little negative reaction. Compared to Hank Greenberg, the legendary slugger who played for the Detroit Tigers from 1930 to 1947 (not coincidentally, 2001 also saw the release of a documentary about Greenberg),1 fans and sports commentators commended Green for his religious convictions and sacrifice. Three years and a handful of home runs later, Green once again announced plans to skip two games against the San Francisco Giants (he later compromised by missing one game). In the midst of a pennant race, and following two years of lackluster production on the field, fans and media commentators once again praised Green for his commitment to religion and values, while certain segments of the Jewish community (the more conservative elements) lambasted his compromised decision, disconnecting him from rhose true heroes of the past. This paper accepts the task of examining this particular history, exploring what each says about the meaning and place of Jews (and Jewishness) widiin contemporary popular culture.

Examining the specific reaction and context of meaning for Shawn Green's yearly internal battle between religious/personal commitments and those of the job/team, this paper reflects on the complex and sometimes contradictory place of Jewishness within popular culture in general. In looking at the ways Shawn Green, the Los Angeles Dodgers, sports commentators, and fans have reacted to his Jewishness, and specifically his decision to skip games because of his religious cultural identity, this paper equally gives voice to the signifiers/ discourse of Jewish (white) intrusion into the sports world, which is imagined as a space of both blackness and Christianity. In exploring this discourse, this paper explores the meaning of Jewish celebrity within contemporary sports, analyzing the meaning and signifiers of Jewishness, whiteness, and celebrity within this popular cultural space.

Specifically examining the public debates/reactions to his not playing games on Yom Kippur during the 2001 and 2004 seasons, inside a histoty of Jewish baseball and the question of identity, I look at how his dilemma played out in 2004. While assumed otherwise, a majority of fans and media supported his decision as a"breath of fresh air," whereas many in the Jewish community derided his decision as a betrayal to Greenberg and Koufax, and denounced Green as failing to lead the next generation of Jewish stars and everyday folks. Green was caught in a cultural paradox: playing on Yom Kippur was a betrayal to many in the Jewish community, yet embracing his religion/Jewishness appealed to many fans' American Dream sensibilities. Shawn Green's dilemma is one of accommodation and assimilation: should he heed the call to pray, or the obligation to play? His internal conflict reflects the external intersections of whiteness and Jewishness-American and foreigner-that take place in the realm of sports celebrity culture, and how these relationships inform the meaning, and making, of an American Jewish identity. …

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