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Why God Cares About the Super Bowl

Does God care who wins the Super Bowl? It’s a question that has been asked numerous times in sports and in other areas of life generally considered unimportant. There’s no denying that the Super Bowl, with its half-time show and million dollar commercials, commands a tremendous amount of attention, unequaled by any other sporting event. In 1985, the public celebration of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration was shifted from the constitutionally required day of January 20, a Sunday, to the following day, Monday, so as not to conflict with Super Bowl Sunday. Prof. Joseph Price writes, “fans spend more money on the Super Bowl than Americans spend on traditional religious practices and institutions throughout the entire month.” However, as we all know, God’s policies are not dictated by the spending behavior and attitude of the American public.

Most people laugh at the foolishness of this question and insist that God has more important things to be worried about. They mockingly tell you that God is busy dealing with major problems like global hunger and world peace and does not pay any attention to trivial matters like sporting events, even one as grand as the Super Bowl. In their minds, the person who believes that God cares about Football is somewhat delusional.

In order to provide what I feel is the correct answer to this question, it would be helpful to reframe the conversation. Does God care about each and every human being on earth? I think so. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that a blade of grass doesn’t sway in the wind without God commanding it to. Whether you agree with that Talmudic statement or not, (much ink has been spilled over its theological implications) the point is that God cares about us. We may not like His decisions, we may get angry at Him at times, but God cares.

Ray Lewis has led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. I don’t know whether God will grant him a second Super Bowl victory, but he quite loudly and proudly believes that God has granted him these last couple of victories. After the first playoff game he wore a “Psalm 91” shirt and declared that because God is his refuge, he was victorious. After their stunning victories against the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, he preached the holy words of Isaiah to Sal Paolantonio, “No weapon formed against you shall prosper,” and concluded by claiming that “man cannot change what God has already blessed and destined.” A few years back, I wrote an article defending Buffalo Bills wide receiver, Steve Johnson, who similarly blamed God for causing him to drop a game winning catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

These men and many others know that God cares about them and their success. They understand that God desires a close relationship with everyone and appreciates every prayer- from the “mundane” to the “holy.” Three times a day, many Jews recite the majestic words of King David, “God is close to all who call upon him sincerely.” If we care, then God cares. It’s as simple as that.

So does God care who wins the Super Bowl? Well, not exactly. But He will be at that game rooting for each player, owner, fan, and concession stand worker hoping that the experience of the Super Bowl will, win or lose, enhance and deepen their relationship with Him. While some may claim that God has more important things to worry about, I believe that God is everywhere. I don’t place limits on the limitless.

Posted in Football.


Two Awesome Videos

Here is Aaron Rodgers doing some meaningful work with Maggie, a cancer survivor.

And here is Nate Robinson explaining to rookie sensation, Damian Lillard about sportsmanship in the NBA, and not allowing the issue to escalate into something serious.

Posted in Basketball, Football.


Another Assist From Magic Johnson

Anonymity often serves a very important purpose in religious and secular life. The Talmud teaches us that one of the greatest forms of charity is “Matan BiSeter,” anonymous giving, which spares the recipient from embarrassment and shame. It can also be used as a sort of deterrent: Moshe asked God to delete his name from the Torah if He destroyed the Jewish people after they worshipped the Golden Calf. Ultimately, God had mercy on them. In our society, anonymous reporting of information can play a crucial role in our national and local security.

Under some circumstances, however, anonymity is a vice and not a virtue. The New York Jet football players who anonymously criticized Tim Tebow acted cowardly. Giving constructive criticism can be helpful to an individual, if it’s done in a respectful and sensitive fashion. Indeed, the Torah commands us to reproach someone about their negative behavior as a means of improvement and not for the sake of shaming them; but public criticism is only warranted if the transgression necessitates it. If Tebow’s teammates honestly believed that he was failing the team, they had a right to be critical. It would have been proper for them to approach him privately with their criticism, or, if they felt it necessary, they could have criticized him publicly, but in that case, they should have the courage to stand behind their criticism. Instead they made a public mockery of him for no rhyme or reason and did so anonymously!

I found it ironic that the same day this NY Post expose on the Jets was published, Laker legend, Magic Johnson, showed them “how it’s done” when confronted with a similar challenge and frustration. When it comes to basketball (or real estate) decisions, it’s hard to argue with Magic. He knows his beans. If he believed that Phil Jackson or even (gasp) Jeff Van Gundy were the best available choices to serve as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, he may well be right. He was angry that Jim Buss chose Mike D’antoni (I like the choice, personally), but he didn’t share his anger with the world. Quite the opposite; he kept his composure. Two days after the hiring he tweeted, “The reason I haven’t tweeted in 2 days is because I’ve been mourning Phil Jackson not being hired as the Lakers head coach.” He followed it up with this: “My mother always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Later that evening he was on NBA countdown on ESPN and explained that D’antoni is a good coach, but not the best fit for the Lakers and that he doesn’t trust the decision making of Jim Buss.

There’s probably more to both the Tebow and Jackson stories than we know. As a long time Laker legend and former part owner of the team, Magic surely knows much more than he’s sharing. But his behavior shows us how we need to act when we are upset and frustrated with a person or situation. Magic didn’t stand behind the veil of anonymity, when he had something critical to say. In fact, Magic reminded everyone on Twitter a few days back that, as a player, he took responsibility for having Paul Westhead fired. He’s blunt and frank, but always acts respectfully.

Thanks Magic for showing us how to handle ourselves the right way. But I hope you are wrong about D’antoni.

Posted in Basketball.


Cameron Van Der Burgh’s Immoral Gold Medal

Last week, South Africa’s Cameron Van Der Burgh won the gold medal in the 100M breaststroke in world record time. But his victory came under scrutiny after the Australian team accused him of making illegal ‘dolphin kicks.’ According to Jason Devaney of NBC Olympics: “In breaststroke, competitors are allowed to take one dolphin kick at the start and one after each turn before starting their breaststroke kick. But with no underwater video judging, swimmers are sometimes able to sneak in an extra dolphin kick – a whip-like motion generated from the hips. Video replays appear to show van der Burgh taking three of them.”  Van Der Burgh finally came clean a few days ago and admitted to cheating. From all indications, it doesn’t appear as though the IOC will strip him of the medal or world record, but I think they should.

What I find most fascinating about this story, however, is what he told a reporter when asked why he cheated:  “If you’re not doing it, you’re falling behind. It’s not obviously – shall we say – the moral thing to do, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it.”

Van Der Burgh wants to argue that what he did was unethical but not grounds for disqualification, since everyone else was doing it. But let’s be honest: if everyone is cheating, they all deserve to be disqualified. Let me pose the question differently: If a group of swimmers agree not to play by the rules, is there a winner?

This scenario is quite different than the “Derek Jeter pretending to be hit by a pitch” story that I wrote about a couple years back. In most professional sports, including baseball, umpires are positioned to make the right call. Sometimes they make mistakes. There isn’t a rule that prohibits a player from trying to “sell it” and dupe the umpire.  If an umpire makes a wrong call, no ethical or illegal conduct was committed by the player. As it pertains to the breaststroke, however, it’s impossible for an umpire to determine whether a swimmer is making an illegal kick in real time. The only way to ensure a clean race is to have underwater video cameras following their every move. If an umpire cannot be placed in a position to make the right call, anyone who abuses the rules is cheating. In my opinion, making undetectable ‘dolphin kicks’ in the pool is akin to taking performance enhancing drugs.

Some may want to blame FINA for the rampant cheating in this event for not placing an underwater video camera into the race. Perhaps they should have. But the real blame lies with the swimmers who placed winning above honesty and integrity, and with our culture that believes, “winning is the only thing.”

I completely understand and sympathize with Van Der Burgh. If everyone else is doing it, why not join the party? I can also imagine the tremendous pressure that a world class swimmer feels after sacrificing four years of his life to win one race that lasts less than a minute. The pressure he is under to succeed is immense. But the reality is that he cheated, just like everyone else, and all of the violators deserve to be disqualified. . To put it in another context, all of us feel financial pressure at one point or another in our lives, but the fact that we may need more money than we have does not mean we can obtain the money by fraudulent means. We have to find a way to make do with what we have or to earn more money legally.

What Van Der Burgh and the rest of the cheaters need to remember is that although it’s possible to cheat humanity, it’s impossible to cheat God. I wish the swimmers cared more about morality and decency than about winning, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. . If our star athletes recognized that there is an omniscient god who knows our every deed, perhaps they would behave in way that would make them worthy role models for their many fans.

 

 

I applaud Van Der Burgh for admitting to the truth, and I’m sure that the he and his sport will be better off for it. At minimum, I pray that he keeps the final verse of Ecclesiastes over his mirror to look at every morning when he gets out of bed: “The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Fear God and keep His commandments, for that is man’s whole duty. For God will judge every deed- even everything hidden- whether good or evil.”

 

 

Posted in Swimming.


Super Bowl Champ or Hall of Fame?

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This week, LaDanian Tomlinson retired from the NFL. The former San Diego Charger and New York Jet had a stellar career and will be remembered as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. There is no doubt that he will be elected into the Hall of Fame as soon as he is eligible. The only blemish on his glorious career is that he never won the Super Bowl. In fact, he never made it to the Super Bowl.

Erik Kaselius of NBC sports brought up this issue with LT during an interview a few days ago (video above) and asked him if he would trade in his hall of fame career for a super bowl ring. This is what he had to say:  [I'd rather be a ] ”Hall of Fame player without a ring, because you’ve got to sacrifice so much individually to be good.”

Many criticized LT for his comments. Some people thought he was being arrogant; that he only cared about his individual stats and didn’t acknowledge that football is a team sport. Others argued that he was only saying this after his retirement. Here’s Teddy Bruschi lambasting him on ESPN:

However, I side with Tomlinson on this one. If I had to choose, I would take the hall of fame career for a few reasons: Firstly, a great player has to sacrifice so much, every day, as LT explained. Secondly, a great player has so many fans and admirers; especially kids who grow up wanting to emulate him. Thirdly, a great player will be financially secure for a very long time (assuming he knows how to manage his money!) . And finally, a great player is enshrined and counted among the greatest to ever play the game. Of course, I would love to have both; but if I could only choose one, it would be a spot in Canton.

I believe that my opinion has precedent from the Bible. You may recall, that our greatest leader and prophet never made it to the promised land. Moses never made it to the Super Bowl. If given the choice between the two, what do you think he would have chosen? While Moses never answers this question outright, the sages provide us with some insight that is  key to answering this question.

According to the rabbis, the primary motivation for Moses to enter into the land of Israel, was for the opportunity to observe the commandments that are only applicable there. So great was his longing for entry into the promised land that he told God he would be content with Joshua leading the Jewish nation into the land and he would enter Israel as a layperson. Ultimately, God rejected that offer.

When reflecting on this Midrash, it appears to me that Moses wasn’t willing to give up his previous accomplishments and glory for the privilege of entering the promised land. He wanted to keep his legacy intact while also entering into Israel as a retiree, an ex-officio. For Moses recognized how indispensable his leadership and greatness was and did not want to minimize, diminish, or erase his accomplishments just to enter into the land. Even Moses, I believe, would have chosen a hall of fame career over winning the Super Bowl.

So let’s cut LT some slack; his opinion has historical precedent. Congrats on a great career.

Posted in Football.


Curtis Beach & Ashton Eaton

This morning the US is celebrating Ashton Eaton’s record breaking performance in the two day decathlon, which was a thing of beauty. However, the most memorable moment of the two day event occurred at the end of the 1500M race. It was memorable not because of what Eaton did, breaking another world record in 4:14.47, but how he won the race. You see, Eaton was not the fastest runner in the 1500M; that title belonged to Curtis Beach, a sophomore at Duke University. And if you watch the race here (I can’t embed the video) you will see that Beach slowed down over the final 200M to allow Eaton to win and break the record. Beach didn’t run out of gas; he was not fatigued. He did it out of respect for Eaton. Since Beach had no chance of making the Olympics or winning the two day event (he finished the event in 11th place), he felt that Eaton deserved to break the record and finish first in front of his home crowd.

I suppose some may think that Beach should have won the race and set the world record on his own. I understand that point of view and its merit. A fair argument can be made that it’s more important to respect the game than the competitor, and when you don’t try your hardest you are insulting the competition and the competitor. In my opinion, however, his act of sportsmanship shows much more about his good character than anything else.

In Judaism, winning isn’t the only thing as Vince Lombardi famously said. We celebrate the victors, but we equally applaud and hold in high esteem those who know their place, and are willing to let others shine. Indeed, Pirkei Avot, ethics of the fathers, is replete with examples of what it means to have good character. Although his name doesn’t appear in that book, Curtis Beach certainly followed the principles therein.

I’m happy for Ashton Eaton for setting the world record and at the age of 24 is the best athlete in the world who, we hope, will bring home the gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics. However, I have just as much admiration and respect for Curtis Beach for showing that rare element of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and brotherhood, that is so often missing from a good competition.

Posted in Track.