Big, Not So Bad, Bill Goldberg
The man who made his name as a Jewish pro wrestler talks about his recent religious awakening
when you become a professional wrestler, your name becomes company property. When Hulk Hogan left the WWF and joined the WCW, for example, he had to change his name because the WWF owned “Hulk Hogan.” I didn’t choose Goldberg because I wanted to be the flagship for the Jewish movement, not by any stretch of the imagination. I chose Goldberg because no one else can own it.
On the other hand, it wasn’t an easy decision. Most of the wrestling happens in the South, so I had to ask myself how I was going to be received as a Jewish boy named Goldberg. Then again, I have never, nor would I ever, hide my Jewish identity.
Have you ever encountered anti-Semitism as a wrestler or in the NFL?
I have never, ever, received any taunts or any form of anti-Semitism. And I suppose being a Jewish football player with the Atlanta Falcons was no different than being a Baptist football player with the Atlanta Falcons. But in the back of your mind, you always expect something to happen. You know, when you run out of the tunnel as Goldberg in front of thousands of deep-rooted Southern fans who traditionally might not be quite so accepting of someone of my background. But people are often surprised when I say I’ve not experienced anti-Semitism.
Then again, you’re built like a house.
[Laughs.] Well, yes, that may have something to do with it, too.
And you’ve been embraced by the Jewish community as a role model.
That’s something I really appreciate. It’s the goal of every kid to grow up and be admired by his people and his peers. I always wanted to become a good role model for kids as a professional football player. Unfortunately, I didn’t attain that through football, but I was smart enough to realize that professional wrestling provided another opportunity for that.
Adam Sandler has said that you’ve done more for the Jewish religion as a wrestler than he did with his Hanukkah song…
I don’t quite believe him, though I think it’s pretty
funny. Still, it shows that I’ve reached a level where people do listen to me. Once you achieve the upper echelon of what you do, as I have, then you become a role model. And with that comes responsibility, and I welcome that responsibility with open arms.
So do you see yourself as a Jewish role model in the tradition of Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and Mark Spitz?
There’s nothing about wrestling that is traditional, so I don’t think I belong in that category. But if my status makes me a role model for Jewish kids, then I’m very happy about that and I hope I’m a good role model for them.
Did you have Jewish sports heroes as a kid?