Walking the talk?

National | The Jewish Jordan, an award-winning embarrassment, second chances, and a case study in human nature

Issue: "Fighting Potomac fever," Feb. 27, 1999

Hoops of fire
Can a player who strenuously observes the Sabbath make it in big-time American sports? The test is coming, but the potential star is Jewish, not Christian. Tamir Goodman, a junior at Baltimore's Talmudical Academy, is one of this season's top recruits-"the Jewish Jordan," he is called-and has committed to the University of Maryland, which will attempt not to schedule games between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday. This could cause conflicts throughout the season, especially during the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments. An Orthodox Jew, Mr. Goodman wears a yarmulke even on the court, and averages 37 points and seven rebounds per game. He told ESPN's SportsCenter, "My priorities are to be a basketball player and at the same time be a God-fearing Jew."
-Brent Stoller Public and private
\President Clinton is not the only one to display a gap between public image and private action. As is now well known, on Jan. 30, one day before the Super Bowl, the Christian organization Athletes in Action honored Atlanta Falcons safety Eugene Robinson for demonstrating exceptional character and leadership abilities at home, in the community, and on the field. That evening, Miami police charged Mr. Robinson with sexual solicitation after they caught him with an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute. The next evening, Mr. Robinson played in the Super Bowl and made a mistake on the key play of the game, an 80-yard touchdown pass to the man he was covering. So much for private action having no effect. But after the game, Mr. Robinson did not try to hold onto an award that he-if found guilty-disgraced. He returned the trophy and announced that he would "make amends to everyone who knows me." Called "the Prophet" by teammates, Mr. Robinson had his wife, two children, and other family members staying with him the night of his arrest. His court date is coming up.
-Rhonda Miller Modern stone-age family
As of Feb. 15 the Michigan State men's basketball team was 22-4 and the No. 5 ranked team in the AP poll-but No. 1 in nicknames. Four of the teammates are known as the Flintstones, because they all come from tough backgrounds in Flint, Mich. Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith, Morris Peterson, and Charlie Bell, who have played together since childhood, last year led their team to a share of the Big 10 title. This year they are coupling basketball success with a desire to act as role models to teenagers who share their sometimes troubled background. Mr. Cleaves, for example, told USA Today he sold drugs at 15 and was once almost gunned down by gang members; Mr. Smith talks of growing up fatherless. The teammates talk of their past, they say, to send a message to teenagers in risky situations. "I said those things so kids would know you can come from a bad part of town, make some mistakes, and still make it," Mr. Cleaves commented as he contrasted past and present: "When I'm on the court with all my Flint boys, it's like I'm dreaming."
-Lindsey Lurie Boggled by human nature
In his team's media guide, Gabe Muoneke of the University of Texas listed Jesus Christ as the person he would most like to meet, "because human nature boggles me." Now he is in a battle to understand his own nature, or at least his temper. Mr. Muoneke, the leading scorer on a team leading the Big 12 at mid-February, was suspended by Coach Rick Barnes last month after punching an opponent. The 6' 7" power forward admits he has a problem and has agreed to undergo "anger management counseling." While leery of therapy-"I'm not a big fan of that kind of stuff"-he realizes that his attitude must change, and during the press conference announcing his suspension asked for prayers. Mr. Muoneke said he hit his lowest point in talking to his mother after the suspension: "It hurt me to talk to her because she has never been hurt like that before." He told the Dallas Morning News that his mother was his chief religious influence and mentioned that she once stopped eating because, when he was five, he said he wouldn't go to church.
-Nicole Gealogo

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