The players of the National Football League aren’t overwhelmingly Jewish. But to no one’s great surprise, Jews still make up a reasonable portion of the NFL community, starting at the very top – the owners. Ten of 32 NFL owners have some publicly known Jewish heritage, at least two of whom will be watching the Super Bowl with great interest. While their histories and relationships with Judaism are varied and diverse, all share a commitment to philanthropy that, in many cases, stems from their Jewish upbringing.
Arthur M. Blank – Falcons
Beginning close to home, Blank is a very well-known figure in the Atlanta Jewish community. The owner of the Atlanta Falcons was recently named the AJT’s entrepreneur of the year. With a Super Bowl in the still-new Mercedes Benz Stadium just a few months after Blank’s other sports venture, Atlanta United FC, claimed the Major League Soccer cup on the same field, the stadium he helped fund is developing a championship pedigree.
Blank is a staple of the Jewish community, a co-founder of Home Depot and a noted philanthropist – an icon of Jewish Atlanta.
Robert Kraft – Patriots
Next of note for Super Bowl LIII is Kraft. Among the most regularly practicing Jewish owners of the NFL, Kraft grew up in Brookline, Mass., at Congregation Kehillath Israel, where his father was a lay leader.
He delivered a keynote address at Yeshiva University in 2016, discussing his Jewish upbringing, among other topics. He said that his father pushed him to become a rabbi, but he instead went into business, initially working for a packaging company owned by his father-in-law.
Recently, Kraft was a recipient of the 2019 Genesis Prize, sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Nobel,” for his work combatting anti-Semitism and support for the state of Israel.
Kraft’s team, the New England Patriots, are, without question, the most successful team of the 21st century and are playing Sunday in their ninth Super Bowl since 2000.
Beyond the Super Bowl, here is the lineup of other Jewish NFL owners:
Mark Davis – Raiders
Mark Davis has owned the Oakland Raiders since 2011, assuming the role from his father, the late Al Davis. Early in his career, Al Davis battled anti-Semitic taunts, and co-owners of the Raiders told jokes about Jews in his presence, according to his 1991 biography, “Slick.” He later wrested control of the Raiders from those very same co-owners. While Mark Davis is not as open about his Judaism as his father was, there’s no doubt that the Davis family played a key role in laying a foundation for Jewish owners and coaches in the NFL.
Glazer Family – Buccaneers
Malcolm Glazer, the late owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United, was the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants whose families were deeply affected by the Holocaust. Glazer was born in Rochester, and at the age of 8 started working for his father’s watch parts business. At 15, following his father’s death, he began selling watches door-to-door to support his family. Later, he moved into the property market, and purchased the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995. Since his 2014 death, the teams have been in the hands of three of his sons, Bryan, Edward and Joel Glazer.
Jim Irsay – Colts
Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, has one of the more interesting stories about his Jewish identity. The son of a Polish-Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Irsay had no knowledge of his Jewish ancestry until high school, when he learned from a classmate that knew relatives of his in Skokie, Ill.
Irsay explained in a 2007 interview with Ynetews.com that his father had suffered a falling out with his parents and, as a result, distanced himself from all they represented, including Judaism. He likened himself to Bob Dylan — it’s a well-known fact that he was born Robert Zimmerman — in the way he combines elements of Christianity, Judaism and other philosophies in his own way.
Jeffrey Lurie – Eagles
Owner of the reigning Super Bowl-champion, the Philadelphia Eagles, Lurie is no doubt enjoying his last few days with the Lombardi Trophy. While Lurie describes himself as primarily culturally Jewish, he makes a yearly pilgrimage to Temple Israel Cemetery in Greater Boston to visit his father’s grave, according to a 2017 Philadelphia Magazine article. His portfolio is immense, as he graduated with a doctorate from Brandeis University, produced movies in Hollywood and, of course, owns an NFL franchise.
Stephen Ross – Dolphins
Raised in a Jewish family in Detroit, Ross purchased 50 percent of the Miami Dolphins franchise in 2008. He made his first steps into the corporate world as a tax attorney before becoming a power player in the world of real estate. One high profile situation brought Ross’s Judaism to the forefront when Miko Grimes, wife of former Falcons and Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, tweeted in 2016, “Gotta respect ross for keeping his jew buddies employed….” Miko Grimes has been known for her controversial tweets for years, and — prior to that — Ross hinted that her opinions played a role in the Dolphins moving on from Brent.
Daniel Snyder – Redskins
Owner of the Washington Redskins, Daniel M. Snyder became the youngest franchise owner in NFL history when he purchased the team in 1999. Snyder spent a large part of his young life in the Maryland-Washington, D.C., area, and in 2005 was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.
Steve Tisch – Giants
Steve Tisch, owner of the New York Giants, is as acclaimed an owner as he is a film producer. He is the only man in the world to hold two Super Bowl rings and an Oscar, which he earned for producing 1994’s “Forrest Gump,” filmed partly in Georgia. He graduated from Tufts University and began his career at Columbia Pictures before establishing his own production company. He is an active philanthropist in the New York and New Jersey Jewish communities, and in the world at large.
Zygi Wilf – Vikings
A child of Holocaust survivors, Zygmunt “Zygi” Wilf has come a long way from his birthplace in Germany, where his parents relocated after pogroms prevented them from returning to their hometown in Poland. Wilf started his career as an attorney before jumping into the family business, Garden Commercial Properties. In a 2016 interview with The Jerusalem Post, the owner of the Minnesota Vikings recalled that his parents would always try to put a positive spin on even the most mundane things. That included the Giants — Wilf’s favorite team as a child — losing a close game. His parents would console their children by saying, “Look at it this way: Things could be worse. You could be the owners.”