Much attention is focused on deflated footballs this week, as the New England Patriots approach the Super Bowl under a cloud of scandal. What is the "Jewish" connection to the football?
A. German Jewish immigrants Joseph Schwarzchild and Ferdinand Sulzberger were partners in the Schwarzchild & Sulzberger company, whose main business was meatpacking. They expanded by finding other uses for the by-products of their work, including tennis racket strings, surgical sutures, footballs and other products. The company eventually became the Thomas E. Wilson Company, now known as Wilson Sporting Goods, the supplier of footballs for the NFL (including the deflated footballs).
B. The Wilson Sporting Goods Company is the official supplier of footballs for the National Football League. In 2003, the NFL complained to Wilson officials that they were not satisfied with the laces on the football, which had a tendency to open slightly on very hot days. In its effort to find a better product with which to make the laces, Wilson turned to Israeli company Para-Tec, which makes parachutes for the Israeli Defense Forces. Para-Tec provided a product based on the strings they used on military parachutes, and this product has been used on NFL footballs ever since (including the deflated footballs).
C. While footballs are referred to as pigskin, they are in fact made from leather. Originally, however, they were made of pigskin. In 1950, Brandeis University played its first football game, but the Board of Trustees was not happy with the use of the footballs made from pigs, given that the university operated under Jewish auspices. They contracted with the Spalding Company to design a football made of cow's leather rather than pigskin. The ball became so popular that over time other teams began using it, and now, all footballs are made of leather rather than pigskin (including the deflated footballs).
D. Wilson Sporting Goods, the official supplier of footballs for the NFL, was founded in 1915 by Thomas Wilson. This was a time of strong anti-immigrant feeling in America, and Wilson (like many employers at that time) refused to hire Jews to work in his company. In 1918, a lawsuit was filed by the recently established Anti-Defamation League on behalf of Harry Schild, a Jewish immigrant who was refused employment because of his religion. The case, Schild vs. Wilson, eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Schild. The company hired Schild, but ironically he quit almost immediately after being assigned to work with the pig skins, a product he refused to touch because of his religious beliefs.
E. Football was invented in the shtetl of Pinsk in Belarus when a kosher butcher sewed together sections of cow hide, which he gave to the neighborhood children to play with. They began throwing it and kicking it around, eventually developing teams and rules. The ball was called the Pinsk-Skin, but over time, as the popularity of the game spread beyond the shtetl, the name morphed into Pigskin, which the non-Jews who played the game found easier to pronounce.
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