The New York Times’ Craig Smith on the curious case of Amsterdam’s Ajax, their supporters’ symbols of choice, and the resulting response.
Outside, souvenir stalls sold Israeli flags or flags with the Ajax logo, the head of the fabled Greek warrior, emblazoned inside the star of David. Fans arrived with hats, jackets and scarves embroidered with Hebrew writing. Until recently, the team’s official Web site even featured the ringing tones of Hava Nagila and other Jewish songs that could be downloaded into fans’ mobile phones.
Few, if any, of these people are Jewish.
“About thirty years ago, the other teams’ supporters started calling us Jews because there was a history of Jews in Ajax,” explained Fred Harris, a stocky man with brush-cut hair and a thick gold chain around his neck, “so we took it up as a point of pride and now it has become our identity.”
For years, the team’s management supported that unique identity. But over time what seemed to many people like a harmless – if peculiar – custom has taken on a more sinister tone. Fans of Ajax’s biggest rivals began giving the Nazis’ signature straight-arm salute or chanting “Hamas, Hamas!” to provoke Ajax supporters.Ajax games have been marred by shouts of “Jews to the gas!” or simply hissing to simulate the sound of gas escaping.
The most disturbing displays have come during games against teams from The Hague or Amsterdam’s greatest rival, Rotterdam. But even Eindhoven fans get into the act: not long after the game started, a chant arose from the corner section of the city’s stadium reserved for fans of the opposing team.
“Everyone who’s not jumping is a Jew!” the crowd cried over and over again as thousands of people in the section jumped up and down.
Ajax games have become so charged with such anti-Semitic displays that many of the team’s Jewish fans now avoid the games altogether. The offensive behavior is not one-sided: during a game against a German team late last year, a group of Ajax supporters displayed a banner that read “Jews take revenge for ’40-’45,” a reference to the Holocaust.
“We were probably too tolerant,” said Uri Coronel, a Jew who was a member of Ajax’s board in the 1990′s, speaking about the management’s past attitude.
Since then, the atmosphere at the games has become “unbearable,” he said, adding that the fans’ adoption of a Jewish identity is widely misunderstood as something positive.
“A lot of Jews all over the world believe that Ajax fans are proud to call themselves Jews, but it’s a kind of hooliganism,” he said.
There is no clear reason why Ajax, founded in 1900, became known as a Jewish club. Amsterdam has always had the largest Jewish population in the Netherlands and the club had two Jewish presidents in the 1960′s and 1970′s. It has had Jewish players at various times. The club, which owns 73 percent of the listed company that owns the team, also has some Jews among its 400 members, but no greater a percentage than their representation in the city’s general population. There are no Jews on the club’s current board.
“The club has no real Jewish origins,” said John C. Jaakke, the club’s dapper president, speaking before the Eindhoven game.
Nonetheless, the club became identified in the public mind with Jews in the 1950′s, and by the 1970′s, opposing fans began to call Ajax supporters Jews. The supporters adopted the identity in a spirit of defiance.
Mr. Jaakke said the trend had bothered the club’s management for the past 10 years, and many Jewish supporters have complained that it makes them uncomfortable. Finally, last year, during a period of national debate about the language being used in soccer stadiums, the board decided to take the opportunity to address the issue. One of the main catalysts for that debate was not anti-Semitic chants, but chants calling the well-known girlfriend of an Ajax player a prostitute.
Every now and then, someone (occasionally not a woman or a foreigner, either) will ask what could possibly be so compelling about watching 10 guys in long shorts running up and down a hardwood floor for two hours. To which I’ll answer on this glorious night, no matter how many times I’ve watched college basketball, there is always the chance that something will happen that I’ve never seen before and might never see again. And what could be more compelling than 3 middle-aged guys in zebra shirts hunched over a 5-inch TV monitor, reviewing the same regulation-ending play, over and over again, while 16,000 patrons stand around scratching themselves?
19 lead changes, 10 ties, 2 overtimes, and at least 48 ounces of a flat, black liquid optimistically dubbed Diet “Coke”.
(The Spartans’ Shannon Brown, 24 points, throwing it down)
In all seriousness ladies and gentlemen, Sunday’s regional final between Michigan State and Kentucky was as packed with intrigue and drama as any game I’ve attended. On the intrigue scale, Mark Story of the Lexington Herald is wondering like so many others, how Kentucky failed to get off a shot with nearly 26 seconds left in the first overtime.
Eschewing a time out, Tubby Smith called a play from in front of the UK bench.
According to numerous UK players afterward, the plan was for Rondo to work the clock down to around eight seconds, then attack the basket by driving the lane.
Said Chuck Hayes: “We wanted Rajon to drive, put the ball on the rim and then me, Randolph (Morris) and Kelenna would attack the glass.”
But, instead, Michigan State jammed the lane. Rondo couldn’t penetrate and wound up pitching the ball to Azubuike on the wing.
The 6-foot-5 junior said he thought he saw three seconds on the clock when he received the ball. Under heavy defensive pressure, Azubuike chose to drive the ball toward the baseline.
“I should’ve just risen up and shot it,” he said later in a subdued Kentucky locker room. “But I thought I could create space and get a shot.”
With the Final Four on the line, the clock expired without UK getting a shot.
Said Smith: “You hand it to Kelenna and hope he would jump up and shoot it – but he didn’t.”
Tournament basketball is packed with ironies. Tubby Smith is one of the best late-game situation coaches I’ve ever seen, but, in basketball terms, this was pretty much the unpardonable sin.
The Final Four on the line and you don’t get a shot?
For Tubby – whose team gave one of the biggest-hearted efforts any Kentucky team ever has in a big game – this will be the second-guess equivalent of Rick Pitino’s decision not to put a man on the inbounds passer in the famous 1992 “Christian Laettner” game.
A lot of this will be unfair. But a captain goes down with his ship, and a coach is responsible for the outcome of late-game situations.
So those who want to look for reasons to bash the current Kentucky coach have a new and fair one if they want it.
When the Yankees chose not to make Andy Pettitte a competitive offer the winter before last, local press and fans alike were aghast that George Steinbrenner could let the lefty walk. A year later, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff survey’s the state of Pettite’s arm/hair and how the Yankee roster has evolved.
The gray hairs, on the other hand, sent us into deep thought.
About Yankees magic and mythology, about the last four years of disappointment, ridiculously heightened expectations and even more ridiculously increased expenditures.
Pettitte enjoyed an unofficial Yankees homecoming yesterday, at Legends Field rather than Yankee Stadium, and he received a pleasant ovation, more sitting than standing, as he took the mound. Once he began to pitch, he looked like someone recovering from left elbow surgery, indicated not so much by the two-run homer he surrendered to Alex Rodriguez as the fact he mixed in 26 balls among his 60 pitches.
And yes, he looked a tad gray, plenty of such rebellious strands integrating among the browns on his head. Like the rest of us (in the spirit of fairness, we are going bald rather than gray), he’s getting older.
“I’m not where I want to be,” Pettitte (above) said after his four-inning performance. “I want to be strong. I want to feel like I’m 100 percent. It’s still a work in progress. I’d be lying if I sat here and told everybody that I felt awesome.”
Can you imagine the panic that would be set off in New York had he said that while under George Steinbrenner’s employ, with just a week to go before Opening Day? Could you envision Pettitte starting April 6 against the Red Sox while on a limited pitch count?
You can say that the Yankees lack the “magic” they seemed to possess from 1996 through 2001. That’s easy, and not altogether inaccurate.
The harder part is figuring out what they could have done in order to keep the magic going.
Certainly, for example, they made the right call in cutting bait on Pettitte when they did. The same goes for their decisions on saying goodbye to Scott Brosius, David Cone, Joe Girardi, Jimmy Key, Chuck Knoblauch, Tino Martinez, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton and John Wetteland.
Their worst two send-offs? Jeff Nelson, the first time, and David Wells, the second time — two of the least popular players, within the organization, of the era. Perhaps emotions got in the way.
Mr. B. Daniel of Austin, TX has helpfully forwarded an Associated Press item about a Tulsa man who has invented a device that prevents the Fox News Channel from reaching your TV screen.
It’s not that Sam Kimery objects to the views expressed on Fox News Channel. The creator of the “Fox Blocker” contends the network is not news at all.
Kimery says he has sold about 100 of the little silver bits of metal that screw into the back of most televisions, allowing people to filter Fox News from their sets. The Tulsa, Okla., resident also has received thousands of e-mails, both angry and complimentary, as well as a few death threats since the device debuted in August.
“Apparently the making of terroristic threats against those who don’t share your views is a high art form among a certain core audience,” said Kimery, 45.
Formerly a registered Republican, even a precinct captain, Kimery became an independent in the 1990s when he said the state party stopped taking input from everyday members.
Kimery now contends Fox News’ top-level management dictates a conservative journalistic bias, that inaccuracies never are retracted, and what airs is more opinion than news.
“I might as well be reading tabloids out of the grocery store,” he said. “Anything to get a rise out of the viewer and to reinforce certain retrograde notions.”
A Fox spokeswoman at the station’s New York headquarters said the channel’s ratings speak for themselves. For the first three months of this year, Fox has averaged 1.62 million viewers in prime-time, compared with CNN’s 805,000, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Kimery seems like a smart guy. Hopefully he can invent some sort of device that will enable viewers to change the channel or to turn off their televisions altogether. Like say, a human hand.
There are a number of vocational choices that seem doomed. Weiland’s N.A. sponsor. Manager of the Tampa Devil Rays. Add to that list working as a recruiter for the U.S. Armed Forces, writes the New York Times’ Damien Cave.
A recruiter in New York said pressure from the Army to meet his recruiting goals during a time of war has given him stomach problems and searing back pain.
Suffering from bouts of depression, he said he had considered suicide.
Another, in Texas, said he had volunteered many times to go to Iraq rather than face ridicule, rejection and the Army’s wrath.
“The recruiter is stuck in the situation where you’re not going to make mission, it just won’t happen,” the New York recruiter said. “And you’re getting chewed out every day for it. It’s horrible.”
Recruiters have “the only military occupation that deals with the civilian world entirely,” said Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University.
Even before the war, recruiters contacted on average of 120 people before landing an active-duty recruit, Army data showed. That number is growing, recruiters said.
One recruiter in the New York area said that when he steps outside his office for a cigarette, he often is barraged with epithets from passers-by angry about the war.
In January, the brother-in-law of a prospective recruit lashed into him. “He swore at me,” the recruiter said, “and said that he would rather have his brother-in-law in jail for selling crack than in the Army.”
The recruiter said, when out of uniform, he often lies about his profession. “I tell them I work in human resources,” he said.
(shown above, the Army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is put to the test when one potential jarhead asks about the party scene at Fort Dix)
From the Detroit News’ Chris McCosky.
Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy apparently is done with the cute Coaching Van Gundy Brothers stories. “If I see one more story about us I’m going to puke,” he said, referring to stories about him and his brother Stan, who coaches the Heat. “Me and my brother. Me and my mom. Mom listens with the sound, my dad doesn’t. Who cares? Really, I’m so sick of it. You guys just won’t let it go. I mean, gosh. It’s not a novelty anymore. It’s painful to read those stories. ‘And when Jeff was 3….’ I mean, my goodness.” When told that Stan was far more chatty on the topic, Jeff said, “He’s in a better mood. He’s 52-16. Let me win 12 in a row, let me go 41-9 over a stretch of games, you can ask me whatever you want about anything you want, you’ll get a positive remark.
If you had a chance to observe former World chess champ / onetime American icon Bobby Fisher flipping out on ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap last night and spewing a truckload of anti-semetic invective….well, guess what? That was nothing compared to the mind-blowing collection of conspiracy theories and axes to grind, available at the web site maintained by Bobby’s girlfriend.
Perhaps most astonishing is Fisher’s claim that Paul Harvey is being paid $30 million by the Jews. If this is correct, can I get a pro-rated refund?
In my own Emily Litella moment, I misread a headline in this morning’s online edition of Newsday, mistaking it for “C-Murder Barred From Having Penis” (which I’m sure you’ll all agree, is cruel and unusual punishment).
Incredibly, the Astros’ inability to resign Carlos Beltran is still binge debated (and in some quarters, defended). Count the New York Times’ Murray Chass amongst those who question the wisdom of Houston meeting the demands of Lance Berkman but not those of Beltran.
What Carlos Beltran did in the Astros’ two postseason series made it difficult not to do what it took to retain him. He batted .435, slugged 8 home runs and drove in 14 runs in 12 games.
“There’s been some pretty good postseasons over the years,” Phil Garner, the Houston manager, said. “But in terms of hitting the ball as hard as you can possibly hit it and hitting it out of the ballpark, I haven’t seen anything like that.”
Yet in 90 regular-season games after the Astros acquired him from Kansas City, Beltran batted only .258.
“This is your free-agent year and you have a chance to make a lot of money,” Garner said, seeking a reason for Beltran’s mediocre performance. “That might have been a personal self-induced pressure. When he got in the playoffs, all things went out the window and he was playing to win. He wasn’t playing for himself; he was just playing to win and things started happening for him. He was in a zone that people die for.”
When the time came for the Astros to try to keep Beltran as their center fielder, they offered $105 million for seven years, but they didn’t offer the no-trade protection he wanted. When they recently signed Berkman, he asked for and received that provision.
“That has been misunderstood to a great extent,” General Manager Tim Purpura said of the Beltran negotiations. “If we could have gotten a deal done, that’s something we probably would have given him, but we never got a deal done. Berkman is a young man who grew up in Houston. He expressed an interest to stay with us the rest of his career.”
The Astros, Purpura said, have given no-trade clauses to players, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, for example. “With Beltran,” he said, “we never got to the end point where that could have been a deal maker or a deal breaker.”
Berkman is also a young man coming off a flag football injury, which curiously wasn’t held against him that much (perhaps because he didn’t claim to be washing his truck).