Big Owners in the Sports World, Big Mensches in the Real World

We are still so sports-starved that when the PGA, NASCAR and horse-racing recently resumed, we couldn’t get enough.  Even non-racing fans were excited to see a horse named “Fauci” racing at Belmont.   Any news of sports like basketball, football, hockey and baseball draw even greater attention—even if they are not “real” stories.  Seems the biggest story continues to be if, when and how the major sports might resume (all without fans, it seems).

Sports writers are also searching for potential stories everywhere.  Just today, papers were reporting on Christian Hackenberg, the former New York Jets backup quarterback who is trying out for the major leagues as a pitcher. And last week there were reports in many papers and radio stations about Jeff Wilpon, COO of the New York Mets saying “the Mets have 4 or 5 suitors.”  Some reporters even mentioned the context for this story— “The Future of the Sports Industry,” webinar sponsored by UJA Federation of New York which focused on what the future of sports may hold. 

The webinar dealt with so much more than Wilpon’s offhanded comment. The more than 700 attendees got to hear about inside baseball, football and basketball from team owners Marc Lasry of the Milwaukee Bucks, Mark Wilf of the Minnesota Vikings, Jeffrey Wilpon of the New York Mets, and (minority owner) David Moore of the Atlanta Hawks. 

More importantly than some cool “inside baseball” insights including up to the date info about recent Mets acquisitions in the MLB draft, fans here Moore kibitzing about attending the very first and last games at Shea Stadium (and the first game at CItiField) with his dad.  Most importantly, fans got to hear from four men who have gone above and beyond to give of themselves in the civic and Jewish world. 

The timing of the event was significant.  Owners are dealing with seasons interrupted by Covid-19, and with the unrest sparked by the killing of George Floyd.  The owners spoke in a moving, compassionate, heartfelt manner.  Lasry spoke of team meetings with the Bucks—what to do, how to react, what needs to change, the decision to march as a team, about social justice and “how we can do a better job.” 

Wilf noted that the killing took place 20 blocks from the Vikings stadium.  He described how the Vikings already have a social justice committee and a diversity committee.  “It is about listening, and talking about our backgrounds.”  Wilf spoke several times about being the child of Holocaust survivors.  “Social justice is important.” 

Wilpon similarly spoke about “listening and learning” and creating a more diverse work force.

Their comments about sports resuming post-Covid-19 didn’t sound so important anymore—compared to the issue they had just begun to address.  While basketball and football do seem to have a clearer sense of when they will resume, baseball is still up in the air.  The men spoke about new stadiums, sports betting and more.

What struck me most in hearing these four men, and Donna Orender, a former collegiate and professional basketball player who was president of the Women’s National Basketball Association, and senior vice president of the PGA, is just how giving they are with their time and money to their communities and to the Jewish world.

They are very busy professionals, and they find time to give.  Mark Wilf is the Chair of the JFNA Board of Trustees, a trustee of Yeshiva University, and an overall  major donor to the Jewish community including Yad Vashem and the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel.

Lasry  Lasry was born in Morocco and immigrated to the U.S at age 7.  He has  served as a director of the 92nd Street Y and was a trustee of the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Moore is Chairman of the Board of UJA Federation of New York, and is Fundraising Chair for Central Synagogue in New York City.  He is also a Trustee of Aish Hatorah and the Museum  at Eldridge Street,

Jeff Wilpon and the Wilpon Family also have a reputation for their charitable giving.

These men are fun to listen to when they talk “inside sports.”  More importantly, they are true models to their peers and to the younger generation when it comes to service to their communities and the Jewish World.   

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