On the ball

Jewish NFL player kicks field goal after wearing blue and white cleats

Vikings kicker Greg Joseph joins ‘My Cause, My Cleats’; Tennessee Titans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair uses shoes to raise money for Gaza kids

The cleats worn by Minnesota Vikings kicker Greg Joseph as part of the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign. (Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)
The cleats worn by Minnesota Vikings kicker Greg Joseph as part of the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign. (Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)

JTA — ​​A 3-0 score is extremely rare in the NFL.

But when the Minnesota Vikings beat the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday night in the league’s lowest-scoring game since 2007, the moment held extra significance for the player who scored those three points.

Vikings kicker Greg Joseph, one of only a handful of Jewish players in the NFL, had worn cleats before the game that showed support for Israel as part of the league’s “My Cause, My Cleats” program. His shoes displayed Stars of David and the phrases “I Stand with Israel” and “Am Yisrael Chai,” or “the Jewish people lives.” (A Vikings spokesman said Joseph opted to wear his usual cleats during the game itself.)

Joseph’s game-winning kick came on a 36-yard field goal — a number that also happens to have meaning in Judaism.

“We were honored to be able to participate in the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats program to call for the end to antisemitism and hate in all forms along with the urgent plea to bring home the remaining hostages,” Vikings owner Mark Wilf said in a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Wilf, who also owns Orlando’s men’s and women’s professional soccer teams, is heavily involved in Jewish causes. He is currently serving as the chairman of the board of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which promotes and facilitates immigration to Israel. Wilf also wore custom pro-Israel cleats at Sunday’s game, as did Vikings chief operating officer Andrew Miller, who is Jewish.

“As an NFL franchise, we have a responsibility to use our platform to make a positive impact in our community,” Miller told JTA. “My shoes reflect the recent rise in antisemitism and the goal of ending hate of all kinds.”

Joseph told JTA in 2021 that he has been involved in Jewish communities in each city where he’s played. In October, he launched a “Kicks for Israel” PledgeIt campaign, which raised about $8,000 for Leket Israel, the country’s national food bank, and another $56,000 for the organization in private donations, according to an announcement by the Vikings. He chose the food bank as the cause for his cleats, too.

Joseph’s former college teammate, Tennessee Titans linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, used his cleats to raise money for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

“Given the recent events in Israel and Gaza, this nonprofit provides medical aid and essential supplies to children injured and left homeless by the bombings in Gaza,” the Titans’ website says.

“So, for me it’s obvious like, I kind of use like world peace as a whole,” Al-Shaair told local sports anchor Kayla Anderson in a Nov. 30 interview. “But, more specifically, the things that are going on in Gaza, innocent men, women, and children being bombed. Like deprived of basic necessities, it’s just insane.”

Greg Joseph #1 of the Minnesota Vikings kicks a field goal during the second half of the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 10, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steve Marcus / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

During a 2020 panel on Jews in the NFL, held in the wake of the DeSean Jackson antisemitism controversy, Joseph recalled his relationship with Al-Shaair.

“I have a very good friend who was my teammate in college, he’s on the 49ers now, and he’s Muslim,” Joseph said, referring to Al-Shaair. “We’ve had great talks about that, you know.”

The initiative came amid intense fighting in the Gaza Strip, which erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, in which some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

Israel’s military campaign, aimed at toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza and securing the release of the hostages, has come under harsh international criticism for its mounting death toll. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says some 18,000 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, though those figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include combatants as well as civilians killed by misfired Gazan rockets.

According to Israeli military estimates, some 7,000 Hamas members have been killed in the Gaza Strip.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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