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Sabbath Not a Problem for These Athletes

Sabbath Not a Problem for These Athletes

It’s been 55 years since baseball great Sandy Koufax, playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, refused to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series. Koufax was a Jew, and the first game happened to fall on the Day of Atonement, known to the Jews as Yom Kippur, the most important of holy days. The decision made Koufax a role model for his fellow Jews.

But more often than not, it seems, a request for Sabbath accommodation in the sporting world is treated with contempt. Beatie Deutsch, the orthodox Jewish woman known as the “Marathon Mom,” faced the prospect of sitting out the 2020 Olympics—now postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Chehalis, Washington, tennis player Joelle Chung had to sit out her high school team’s postseason competition.

And now, more instances have arisen in the sporting scene.


Stoudemire’s “Shabbat” Stand

Amar’e Stoudemire, 38, had a 14-year pro career, most memorably with the Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks, before playing in China and on two Israeli teams. Having gained an interest in Judaism while in New York, Stoudemire absorbed himself in Orthodox Jewish studies when in Israel, gained citizenship, and converted just last year.

But now, Stoudemire is testing the waters of coaching, The New York Times reports. His new job as a “player development assistant” for the Brooklyn Nets gives him an all-access pass to the administrative side of the game.

“We wanted him to come in and share all the things that he learned from his experiences—but also to learn about coaching, video analysis, analytics and the front office,” former teammate and Nets head coach Steve Nash told the newspaper.

For Stoudemire, though, being granted those privileges does not mean he has forgotten his newly confirmed faith: “Stoudemire observes the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, keeps a kosher diet and became known in … [the] days [on one of his Israeli teams, Maccabi,] for arriving at games in all-black Orthodox clothing. … Stoudemire, whose Hebrew name is Yehosaphat, said he would work with the Nets to determine the best way to maintain the same level of Orthodox Shabbat observance now that he is back in the United States, where businesses do not shut down on Friday nights as they largely do in Israel.”

Later, Times reporter Marc Stein retweeted Stoudemire’s triumphant Twitter post, “I’m off for Shabbat, thanks to the beautiful organization of the Brooklyn Nets.”


No Baseball on Sabbath

Some 2,000 miles away, in the Las Vegas, Nevada, suburb of Summerlin, Elie Kligman, an 18-year-old high school senior, “was one of only 175 high-schoolers from across the country—and the first Orthodox Jew—to take part in the Major League Baseball-scouted ‘Area Code Baseball Games.’” Insiders say the athlete, who both pitches and plays in the infield, is a top prospect for pro teams. [5]

Kligman told Chabad.org, “My dream has always been to be a Major Leaguer. I never thought of anything else—baseball has always been what I’ve wanted to do.” 

Despite his baseball prowess, Kligman remains grounded in his Orthodox Jewish faith, praying three times a day; observing strict kashruth, or kosher, dietary rules; and never, ever playing on the Sabbath.

He explained, “I have the mindset of, ‘This is what I am doing for Judaism, and this is what I am doing for baseball.’ Once the sun goes down on Friday night, it’s not a debate for me, [celebrating Shabbat] is just what I am doing. When you are a proud Jew, people respect when I tell them I’m not going to play on Friday night and Saturday.”

That has meant some sacrifices, including mad dashes to after-sunset games and arriving a day early at hotels for away games. But Elie and his younger brother, Ari, have been encouraged in their observance by their father, attorney and sports agent Marc Kligman, and by their head coach, who routinely blocked the scheduling of games on Shabbat.

If Elie ends up on a Division 1 college baseball team, he’d be the first Orthodox Jewish baseball player to break into those ranks—and he intends to stick to his commitment.

“People always ask me what I’m going to do in college,” Elie said. “The answer has always been I’m not playing on Shabbat. … I’m not changing that.”


Folded hands over Bible

Staying Faithful Builds Character

There are many positive lessons from the stories of Elie Kligman and Amar’e Stoudemire. One is that it may well be possible to be faithful in observing the Bible Sabbath and pursue an exceptional career, even in professional sports. 

In an arena where there’s great pressure to “go along to get along,” these individuals—whether a “Marathon Mom” in Israel, an aged baseball Hall of Famer, or an NBA All-Star—are developing character at the same time they’re developing their musculature. They’re flexing their “faith muscle” and seeing it pay off.

Just keeping the Bible Sabbath does not guarantee worldly success. Indeed, some of these athletes have lost opportunities because they’ve chosen to be faithful. But the world’s gems come and go. It is the Sabbath that never changes; its rewards never run dry. And if your commitment is set on the Sabbath, the blessings that you receive will be as “a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). 

Would you like to keep the Sabbath as a holy day? This free article will help you get started.

And for a quick and powerful list on the Sabbath’s blessings, check out “7 Promises of the Sabbath.

These are only a couple of the many resources you will find here at Sabbath Truth!

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