Menorahs are usually displayed on window sills or tabletops during Hanukkah. But Adam Podlesh, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ punter since 2007, keeps his in his locker year-round for everyone to admire. The 5-foot-11-inch, 27-year-old New York native came to the NFL with a checklist of accolades: He was first punter taken in the 2007 draft and highest drafted punter in Jaguars history. But his career hasn’t been smooth sailing — a knee injury sidelined him for the final five games of the 2008 season. Yet this Jewish athlete proved resilient. Podlesh spoke to the Forward about religion, sports and that ever-present hannukia.
You keep a menorah in your locker year-round. How did the tradition start?
It was originally a gift that the former punter that was here competing with me, Steve Weatherford, gave me. He’s not Jewish but he knew I was, so he got it for me as a present. He actually left for [the] New York [Jets] and I just kept it up there. It’s a Jewish pride thing , I guess.
Do you ever light the menorah?
I haven’t lit it. I don’t know if they’d like me having fire going on in the locker room.
What do your teammates say about it?
I haven’t heard a whole lot of talk about it. I don’t know how knowledgeable [my teammates are] about Jewish traditions. Pretty much everyone here knows I’m Jewish, so seeing a menorah up there isn’t surprising to them.
Were you observant growing up, and do you still observe?
I was brought up reform. I went to Sunday school regularly and went to Hebrew school up until my bar mitzvah. I did go to High Holy Day services this year, but I don’t practice as much as I’d like to, to be honest with you.
Will you celebrate Hanukkah with your teammates?
Everyone is Christian. I’ll give them Christmas gifts and they can give me a Hanukkah gift, to make it fair. But I don’t get eight.
Do you ever have a conflict with your career and religion?
I’ve never had that stressed upon me. Obviously, in college it’s tougher because you’re having games on Friday nights, but now we have games on Sundays and Mondays.
You’ve said you’re the only player in the NFL to have a menorah.
Yes, I was assuming that because statistically there aren’t as many Jewish NFL athletes out there.
We aren’t exactly known for our athletic ability.
Well, I always tell people it’s because [Jewish] mothers won’t sign the permission slips to let their sons play football.