As a basketball coach, I'm a visible person. And I think in most cases, I am the first Jewish person that most of my players have met.
But I gotta' tell you, when we pray, and we talk about God, I think they find some common ground with messages that they heard growing up.
In February 2008, Coach Bruce Pearl led the University of Tennessee men's basketball team to the number one ranking in the nation for the first time in the school's history. But his efforts at team-building extend beyond the court, where he tries to bridge religious and cultural differences among his players.
Welcome to Voices on Antisemitism, a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum made possible by generous support from the Oliver and Elizabeth Stanton Foundation. I'm Daniel Greene. Every other week, we invite a guest to reflect about the many ways that antisemitism and hatred influence our world today. Here's University of Tennessee men's basketball coach, Bruce Pearl.
Growing up in Boston, there was tremendous racial tension. Neighborhoods were segregated, by not only race and religion, but ethnic backgrounds. And there was not a melting pot. It was a boiling pot.
And being Jewish, and playing sports, it was an interesting combination. There was a stereotype that existed that we weren't very tough, we weren't very physical, we weren't able to compete athletically. And so I spent so much of my younger days in athletics breaking down stereotypes.
Basketball's been very, very good to me. And it's been able to take me all over the world. And every time I've gone to Europe I've visited a concentration camp.
We went to the Czech Republic, and on this particular visit I did have my entire team with me. There were several that didn't even know anything about the Holocaust. They had kind of heard about it, but it wasn't something that was really discussed.
And the questions that came up from my players made this visit worth everything. They wanted to know: Why? And what did these people do that they brought them to this terrible place and imprisoned them, and tortured them, and murdered them—men, women and children?
And they asked questions about racism, and why is it that African Americans are supposed to dislike Jews? And we got to talk about that.
For me as a coach and a teacher, my whole thing is to bring my team together, to accept each other's differences, to tolerate one another, and that helps us become a great team.
And that's what societies have got to try to do—take different people from different backgrounds, come together with a common goal. And so I think those are some great lessons for my players to have learned.
Voices on Antisemitism is a free podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Join us every other week to hear a new perspective on the continuing threat of antisemitism in our world today. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. Please visit our website, www.ushmm.org.