On the very day that the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history, the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, a devout Christian and a staunch supporter of the state of Israel, became the first player who was ever unanimously chosen to be inducted to the Hall of Fame, The Daily Beast ran an article attacking him, writing:
… over the past three years, he’s also served at the pleasure of a racist president, taken part in thinly veiled propaganda on behalf of a far-right government in Israel, and gotten chummy with outright bigots and apocalyptic loons. None of this will be inscribed on his Hall of Fame plaque. It should, even if much of the sports world would very much like to pretend none of it exists.
Writer Robert Silverman admits of Rivera, “To this day, he is held up as the ideal athlete, bestowed with endless grace and an unflappable demeanor on the mound that belied a burning competitive desire.” Then he writes conspiratorially, “While his playing career, and the overwhelming sense of dignity he brought to his chosen profession, has been endlessly dissected and universally praised, little was known about what Rivera was like when not on the clock.”
Silverman speaks of Rivera’s faith and the way it drives him; his charitable organization, “one very much powered by his faith, was distributing nearly a million dollars annually, according to New York magazine,” his founding of a New Rochelle, NY, church, and his perspective after he lost the deciding game of the 2001 World Series, when he stated it was part of the greater good because the loss prevented a teammate from possibly getting on a plane that crashed.
Then Silverman warns, “But the vast majority of Evangelical Christians also believe in a particular messianic biblical prophecy: Jews must rule the Holy Land before Christ can return. Whether Rivera ascribes to those beliefs entirely is unclear, but his support for Israel and the Israel Defense Forces is a matter of public record. He has traveled to Israel on multiple occasions, possibly beginning in 2013.”
Silverman notes that the New York Board of Rabbis (NYBR) named Rivera its “Man of the Year,” that Rivera reportedly met with Israeli government officials, and that NYBR’s executive vice president, Joseph Potasnik, said that Rivera stood in the Golan Heights, pointed to Lebanon and Syria, then stated, “They could have a much better life and yet they choose not to take that path. There’s an ideology that infects their thinking, and they just don’t want to live in peace.”
Silverman also points out that in 2018 Rivera visited a military base in Israel. Silverman quotes the Israel Defense Forces stating that Rivera that the IDF trains soldiers to be “a better person, a better citizen, and a better human being.” Silverman also attacks Rivera for his friendship with Pastor John Hagee, the head of Christians United for Israel.
Any criticism of his pro-Israel stance won’t change Rivera’s mind, either. “[T]o me, criticism is more motivation to keep going forward—to push forward—for what I believe, for what I stand for,” he said. “And again, that will make me even stronger.”
Silverman pushes ahead:
Beyond Rivera’s pro-Israel activism, even though he’s never publicly given his endorsement, the Hall of Famer’s actions make it clear his sympathies lie with the Trump administration, which has backed all manner of far-right policies when it comes to Israel.
Silverman then quotes ESPN writer Howard Bryant saying of Rivera, “… he was very cagey, and very, very savvy about what connections those religious beliefs linked to. Now we’re seeing who Mariano Rivera really is, or who he’s currently influenced by.”
Just to make sure that he is not singling Rivera out for his support of Israel, Silverman notes, “Rivera is far from the only athlete to stump for Israel without drawing much attention. In June, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson joined New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and 15 other Patriots in Jerusalem … Similarly, in June 2017, Kraft enlisted a slew of former NFL stars to take part in a grip and grin with Prime Minister Netanyahu and offer unabashed praise for the Israeli military.”
Silverman concludes, “Little in-depth coverage of Rivera and Israel exists outside of the Israeli media and a few right-wing blogs. It certainly won’t be mentioned in the run-up to his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Why would it? His status as a universally-beloved Yankee means a reporter would have to risk running afoul of not just an editor or two, but gobs of angry readers.”
Rivera once said, “I believe in Jesus Christ, and I cannot move without His direction. That doesn’t mean that I’m a perfect man. Now I wish I could tell you that I’m perfect, but I’m not. But I’m always trying to please the Lord, and that’s my goal.”