Jewish NFL Player Alan Veingrad Visits Hillel

Last week, University of Minnesota Hillel hosted Jewish (former) NFL player Alan Veingrad as part of their Hillel Life program. Hillel Life was created in honor of Leslie and Abigail Wexner and is unique to the U of M Hillel. It is made up of 10-20 students who want to deeply engage in an active Jewish life. Among the benefits is a speaker series, which brings in all sorts of speakers from the Jewish world to help guide the students through their Jewish journeys.
The students gathered for dinner, and then Veingrad took the stage. (I got to interview him during dinner. Click HERE for the transcript.) Veingrad spoke about his 165 lbs. frame in high school, which was not a football body. He began lifting weights at age 14, when he decided against the looming trouble he could get into in Miami. Eventually he went off to play in college at East Texas State. There he became the token Jew. He told a story about his coach sitting him down and telling him he had won an All-American award from the Jewish press, which fascinated the coach.
He said his Hebrew school experience was boring and meaningless; but his mother was intent on him becoming a Bar Mitzvah and marrying Jewish. When he got to college, people kept asking him questions about Judaism that he couldn’t answer, so he had to keep calling his home and his grandmother for advice. While he never faced anti-Semitism at East Texas State, he was certainly the only Jewish student on the football team, if not the on the entire campus.
After college he went undrafted in the NFL draft but signed with Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 11 days, and then the Houston Oilers for 3 weeks, eventually being cut and ending up back at East Texas State to coach. After a year of coaching, working on graduating and building his body he signed with the Green Bay Packers. It was there he learned technique and took on a starting Offensive Line position as a rookie. He credits playing for great coaches like Forrest Gregg and great teammates who helped him along the way.
While in Green Bay it was a local Jewish man, Lou Weinstein, that helped him settle in. It was then that his love for Judaism and the Jewish community began to grow. Today, Veingrad speaks all over the world about his playing days, his faith in Judaism and the Jewish people.
What impressed me the most about the event—besides the dessert trays afterwards—was Veingrad’s ability to capture his audience. The students were so focused on his every word. Veingrad’s story is one of a journey that starts with a dream and the development of the right techniques to get there. But it’s also about gathering the love from the people around you and making sure you use it properly. For Veingrad those surrounding people were his teammates and the Jewish community. Veingrad is a great Jewish sports role model and a total mensch. We are lucky to have him on our side and yasher koach to UMN Hillel for bringing him to campus.
For more on Alan Veingrad visit his website: