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Sporting Events on Religious Holidays

Guest Post by Ron Kaplan, author of Kaplan’s Korner

And they say it’s a Christian world.

The Los Angeles Lakers take on the Miami Heat on Christmas Day and Phil Jackson, the Lakers’ coach, is fed up. This is the 12th straight year that the Lakers have to postpone opening their presents and Jackson, the son of two ministers, could evidently hold his tongue no longer.

Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon discussed the matter on yesterday’s Pardon the Interruption:
Kornheiser: Let us move to Phil Jackson, whose Lakers will play the Miami Heat on Christmas Day. The Lakers’ coach doesn’t want the NBA playing any games on Christmas Day and Jackson said “It’s like Christian holidays don’t mean anything to the NBA anymore. You just go out and play and entertain on TV. It’s really weird.” Jackson referred to this as “the holy time.” Wilbon, you’re working basketball games on Christmas Day; your thoughts?

Wilbon: I hadn’t thought of it like this but Phil Jackson makes you think because he’s a smart guy and he’s not afraid to mix it up and that’s what he’s done here and I wonder how it will be received by David Stern.

I think he has a real point that has swayed me. You know, there are other holidays that are observed in other faith’s and it’s okay, and yet I know this: I have to work Christmas Day, and by the way, I’m not asking for the day off…

Kornheiser: Do you want to?

Wilbon: No.

Kornheiser: You don’t want to work …

Wilbon: No…

Kornheiser: because the NBA makes that into the Daytona 500.

Wilbon: Right…

Kornheiser: They put their biggest games…

Wilbon: Five games, and their biggest teams…

Kornheiser: Their biggest teams

Wilbon: And this network expects me to work and I’m gonna work and not complain about it.

Kornheiser: But you could say no.

Wilbon: No, I couldn’t. And that’s the point that Phil’s making. I can’t say no.

Kornheiser: I think Phil Jackson could walk away and say “This holiday means something to me on relgiious grounds and I don’t want to do it…

Wilbon: And make a point…

Kornheiser: … in the same way that Sandy Koufax said on Yom Kippur, “I’m not gonna play.” I think that the country, though, was founded on the basis of freedom of religious and from religion.

Wilbon: True.

Kornheiser: There are millions of people in this country for whom this is not a holy time and they like to watch games and on the two…

Wilbon: But if the people to whom this is a holy time say no…

Kornheiser: Then they can walk. They can walk.

Wilbon: But can they?

Kornheiser: I think they can.

Wilbon: Will the culture let that happen?

Kornheiser: I think they will. I think the two most sort of American national holidays are Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.

Wilbon: Sports. Sports. Sports, sports, sports, sports sports.

Kornheiser: [unintelligble] play the game. You’re tired of being with your family, and you want to watch something…

Wilbon: I like my family…

Kornheiser: Not that much, you don’t.

Wilbon: I meant the other family, too, Magic, Jon Berry, Stu…

Kornheiser: Oh, that family…

Wilbon: My Christmas family.

Kornheiser: But I think that if Phil said I don’t want to coach, everybody would let him walk. Everybody.

Wilbon: By the way, I talked to Kobe Bryant about this last week, and eh said he loves playing Christmas Day. So I mean, difference of opinion, even on the same club.

Where to begin?

First of all — and I may be way off base here — but when Jackson refers to the NBA is that a code would for David Stern, commissioner of the league? Going deeper into paranoia, is “Stern” a code word for “Jewish,” as in Jewish domination of the sports world? After all, MLB commissioner? Jewish. NHL? Jewish. So three out of the four major professional sports leagues have Jews at the helm.

Second, What is Wilbon talking about when he says “there are other holidays that are observed in other faith’s and it’s okay”? What other faiths have holidays observed during the season for which personnel might take off? The High Holy Days? We go through the Yom Kippur “dilemma” every year, wondering if Kevin Youkilis, Ike Davis, Ryan Braun, et al, will sit or play (by the way no one expects a Jewish athlete to refrain from playing on Rosh Hashana anymore). Good Friday is considered the holiest day on the Christian calendar, but you rarely hear the same volume raised when it comes to Christian athletes taking the day off out of respect.

Third, if memory serves, like Koufax, Kornheiser takes off for Yom Kippur. I find it difficult to believe that ESPN or TBS, or whatever network Wilbon works for would not accommodate the veteran sports personality if he really wanted the day off. Certainly someone of his ilk — with 30 years in the bank — would merit such consideration.

Remember Chariots of Fire? During the 1912 Olympics, Eric Liddell, a Christian athlete for England, was subjected to pressure from the highest levels (including the Prince of Wales) to participate in a race held on a Sunday, which he steadfastly refused to do. Surprisngly, the powers that be for England had little tolerance for such religious morality, as seen in the clip below. Enter a teammate who had already won a medal and graciously suggests Liddell take his spot in a Thursday event. And everyone walks away happy, including the British Olympic committee members.

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