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Cole Hamels: Being Honest to a Fault

“Lying is a necessity of life.” – Nietzsche

Earlier this week Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, Cole Hamels did the unthinkable- he told the truth. After plunking 19 year old baseball phenom, Bryce Harper, in the back, he admitted that he did it intentionally. From hearing and seeing Harper’s brashness and arrogance, firsthand, he felt that it was necessary to give Harper a memorable welcome to the major leagues.

I don’t think it’s presumptuous of me to assert that plunking another player is wrong, inappropriate and doesn’t belong in baseball. The fact that beaning a batter has been part of baseball tradition does not make the practice sacrosanct. Might does not make right, as the saying goes. Irrespective of whether a pitcher plunks the batter as an act of “self-defense” or whether he wants to send him a message, it’s gutless and cowardly.

However, once the batter has been plunked, isn’t it morally correct for the pitcher to be honest and tell the truth? Do I need to review the countless instances that the Bible demands us to be truthful and commands us to distance ourselves from speaking falsely? The rabbis, in Ethics of the Father’s went so far as to say that the world exists because of “truth.” Indeed, Aristotle and many other philosophers take an absolutist approach to speaking the truth and never condone lying.

Yet, how often do we watch pitchers intentionally bean a batter and then shrug it off during the post-game press conference by saying, “the pitch just got away from me,” or “I threw it inside and he was overcrowding the plate.” Everyone and their mother knows the pitchers are lying, but they are still brazen enough to deny their evil intent. Is it a stretch to call this type of behavior unethical and immoral? Not one bit!

And here is the irony of all ironies: the pitchers who deny intent are not suspended or reprimanded. Five days later, those starting pitchers get back on the mound and pitch. But the pitcher who is truthful and admits to the crime is given a 5 game suspension. He is rebuked and punished for his honesty. Instead of reprimanding Hamels shouldn’t Major League Baseball applaud him for his honesty? Give him a raise, for crying out loud! Ok, I shouldn’t go overboard. But think about it- Major League Baseball is just getting over the steroid era and has seen, firsthand, how those who have admitted wrongdoing have been treated with more respect than those who are willing to go to jail instead of admitting to their crime. Presumably, Hamels was following the dictum of the Bible, the beliefs of Aristotle, St. Augustine, and many others who maintain that honesty is the “only policy.” If baseball is going to punish Hamels, they should punish him for his actions on the baseball field, not for what he said about it off the field.

Hamels’ uncommon honesty raises an interesting ethical question: when, if ever, is it ok to lie? While I believe that Hamels deserves credit for being honest, the Jewish position, as well as that of other non-Jewish theologians and philosophers, is that there are situations and circumstances when the truth can be compromised. According to the Talmud, one of those times is “for the sake of peace.” As proof the Talmud cites the apprehension and fear of Joseph’s brothers toward him after their father, Jacob, died. Worried that Joseph would now retaliate against them to avenge all the cruelty they heaped upon him, they fabricated to Joseph that their father’s last will and testament commanded that Joseph grant complete forgiveness to his brothers; a command that Jacob never issued.

From a religious perspective, it can be argued that Hamels had full moral justification to lie about the plunking for the sake of peace. By doing so, he may have prevented himself or his teammates from getting plunked in retaliation in the future and he could have spared his teammates from losing him on the fifth day. Lord knows how poor the Phillies pitching staff has been this year and Hamels has been the only consistent starter.

In sum, sometimes, people can be honest to a fault, or they can be absolutists in their beliefs about lying. I’m not sure where Hamels stands on the issue, but it cost his team dearly, at a time when they need him the most. From at least one religious perspective, his honesty may have been a mistake.

Posted in Baseball.

Metta World Elbow

There were so many great sports stories over the weekend, especially in Los Angeles, that were quickly overshadowed by one heinous act from Metta World Peace. It’s unfortunate that his disgraceful act, lasting all of 30 seconds, ruined a great sports weekend. It’s even more saddening that all the progress  Metta has made over the last couple years rehabilitating his image has taken a major step backwards. In fact, he was the recipient of the NBA citizenship award last year. Chances are that he will not win the award this year. However, I believe it was an isolated incident and not indicative of a return to the old Ron Artest.

What’s almost equally frustrating to me, however, is that the last two years of his basketball career are now being viewed by many as an aberration, while the 30 seconds of yesterday’s craziness is being considered the norm. Is that fair? Why can’t society distribute their praises and criticisms equally? What Metta did was nothing short of atrocious but let’s not make the last 30 seconds of his basketball life emblematic of who he was, is, and always will be on the basketball court.

I often find these types of unbalanced reactions in relationships. It is so natural to harp on the negative attributes of one’s spouse without praising their strengths. Moreover, when a spouse invests the time and energy to improve their weakness it often goes unnoticed until he or she slips up and is criticized again.

It’s time that we put some more balance into our relationships and outlook on life. Be critical when appropriate, but don’t forget to give praise when it’s due.


Posted in Basketball.

The Miseducation of Bo Ryan

Here’s the story on

Talk about double standards. Bo Ryan, head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, barred redshirt freshman Jarrod Uthoff from transferring to all schools in the Big10, ACC, and a couple other colleges in other conferences. Chalk this one up as another NCAA rule that makes no sense- coaches are allowed to block their scholarship players from transferring to any university of their choice (keep in mind that transfer students must redshirt for another season regardless; another ridiculous NCAA rule).

Ryan admitted that the rules aren’t completely fair, “I didn’t make the rules. I’m just following them.” Yet, “when asked why a player should be prevented from moving to a school of his choice when a coach can freely move within a conference like Tubby Smith did from Georgia to Kentucky in the SEC, Ryan said that it’s a professional contract and there are buyouts and penalties. “There are rules of a scholarship,” Ryan said. “I didn’t make them up.”

It’s about time coaches finally started following the rules, right?!  Give me a break- this is an abuse of the rules of the highest degree. I guess Ryan never heard about the 5th book of Jewish law; the law of derekh eretz, of acting fairly and honorably. Instead selfishness and arrogance have ruled the day. This is a unique example of when following the rules is wrong. As FDR once said, “rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.” And as our rabbis tell us in Ethics of the Fathers, without derech eretz there aren’t rules (Torah) and without the rules (Torah) there isn’t derech eretz. In other words, in order live an honorable life there must be a healthy balance of both.

Bo, you can’t have one without the other. While following the rules is commendable, ignoring the spirit of the rules is contemptible.  I think parents of high-school athletes will be turned off by your behavior. How sad.


Posted in College Basketball.

Thank You Roger Goodell for Choosing the Bible Over Kant (Saints Part II)

As I mentioned in my previous article, Greg Williams, the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints (and now the Rams) was suspended indefinitely for his role in the recent bounty scandal. In addition to punishing Williams, Roger Goodell also suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for the season, general manager Mickey Loomis for 8 games, and assistant coach Joe Vitt, for 6 games. This past week, their appeals were denied.

We all knew and expected the coaches to be punished swiftly and heavily, but no one anticipated such a stiff penalty. In explaining the rationale for the severe punishment, Goodell noted that it resulted from two aggravating factors. Firstly, the Saints organization denied, on more than one occasion, that there was ever any wrongdoing. Secondly, after being notified that the league had incriminating evidence, the Saints made no effort to discontinue their bounty hunting practice. Just recently an audio tape of Greg Williams surfaced in which he urged his players do “whatever it takes” to beat the 49ers in this past year’s NFC divisional playoffs. He lobbied them to knock out a certain wide receiver’s ACL, and to hit the quarterback as hard as possible, among other gutless and abhorrent acts. (Ironically, the 49ers beat the Saints, and their defense was porous. That’s for another time.) It is indisputable that there is sufficient evidence for Goodell to hand out unprecedented penalties, but still, a full year suspension without pay (a loss of $8,000,000) for the head coach? Does that penalty really “fit the crime?”

The truth is, penalties need not always “fit the crime.” Often enough, they must be steeper than the crime! When assessing any punishment we must consider the goal of specific deterrence, how to ensure that this person will not become a repeat offender, and the goal of general deterrence, how to ensure that others will not act in a similarly unlawful manner. In this instance, Goodell correctly determined that the most effective way to discourage other coaches in the league from acting similarly is to impose a draconian penalty, thereby sending a strong and unequivocal message that this behavior will not be tolerated. It’s unfortunate for the Saints that they have been made an example for the rest of the league, but Goodell rightly put the entire NFL on notice that this behavior is unacceptable.

A focus on general deterrence would not comport with the beliefs of German Philosopher Immanuel Kant who only subscribed to the principle of retribution, I.e. punishing a criminal based on his actions alone, and rejected the idea of general deterrence. To him, human beings should be viewed as ends in themselves and not as a means to an end. The reality is, however, that the our court system routinely invokes the principle of general deterrence when imposing sentences on criminals. And it appears as though Goodell is also not much of a Kantian himself. Frankly, in my opinion, he made the right decision.

In fact, Judaism also endorses the notion of general deterrence. The Bible, in four instances, prescribes stiff punishments upon certain offenders specifically to achieve the goal of general deterrence. The four sinners subject to such penalties are, one who incites others to worship idols, a rebellious son, a rebellious elder, and false conspiring witnesses. With respect to the punishment imposed on those sinners the Bible says, “So that they [the rest of the people] shall hear, and fear.” Indeed, great rabbinic sages such as Maimonides & Saadyah maintain that general deterrence is actually a central component of all punishment in Jewish thought and law.

Perhaps Mickey Loomis, Sean Payton, Greg Williams, and the rest of the coaching staff are modern day equivalents of rebellious elders. Maybe they are not. Either way, their behavior has given the NFL a massive black eye. Goodell understands this and his punishments are designed to make sure that this will never happen again. He has taken yet another important step in making the game of football safer. In the process, he has correctly invoked the verse, “And the entire [NFL] nation will hear and fear.”





Posted in Football.

Gregg Williams and the Saints (Part I)

Former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator, Greg Williams, has been banned indefinitely from the NFL for his role as ringleader in the bounty hunting scandal that shocked the sports world. For the uninformed, Williams offered financial rewards to players who delivered crushing tackles that knocked out opponents from the game. Needless to say, this type of behavior is disgraceful. What he did as a coach and human being was beneath contempt. His punishment was severe, significant and justified.

Amidst all the controversy surrounding this story, however, I find it disturbing that the media has been squarely focused on the fact that Williams doled out money for these vicious tackles. Why aren’t they “crying foul” that he asked his players to injure or “take out” an opposing player? This is American football we are talking about, not the Roman Colosseum where spectators would watch as criminals killed each other! Football is not a friendly game, for sure, but it is a competition, not a death match.

Truthfully, I am not completely surprised. Coaches will never preach restraint when tackling an opponent. They will continue to urge linemen to sack the quarterback with all their might; to give him something to think about the next time he drops back for a pass. They will persist in teaching their corners and safeties to make sure the receiver “feels it” when he catches a pass across the middle of the field, so that he won’t come back over the middle again. Sports analysts recognize that these intimidating and devastating hits are legal, so why should they take issue with it? Regrettably, as we have seen time and time again, a “clean” but brutal tackle can cause serious injuries.

The challenge for the National Football League, then, is to recognize that no matter how determined they are to make player safety of paramount importance, there will always be push back from players and coaches. Teams will exploit all of the rules gray areas, and interpret them in ways that will challenge its authority. As we have seen, athletes often “stop at nothing” in the hope of gaining a competitive advantage. To them, winning at all costs in the immediacy of the moment is more beneficial than any long term brain damage to themselves or fellow comrades. That is precisely why they have decried the stricter rules, stating rather pompously, that the NFL isn’t for babies; it’s for real men. In order to protect the sanctity of football and the safety of its players, Roger Goodell must continue to remain vigilant in cracking down on tackles and hits that are illegal and excessive.

The reality is that this particular challenge is not unique to the NFL. Every sport, country, and religion, has a set of rules for participation in organized life. Year after year countless citizens, adherents, and athletes test the governing body’s established boundaries in an attempt to break the law without consequence. Because many of the rules are open to interpretation, each governing body has to determine when to act with leniency and when to act strictly. But there are always red lines that mustn’t be crossed; and when they occur, each governing body must act with toughness in order to restore order. Player safety has become the red line for the NFL, and I’m glad the Goodell isn’t taking it lightly.

The great rabbis of the 2nd temple era were faced with a similar challenge. They were wholly concerned about protecting and safeguarding the sanctity of the Bible and regularly preached against even coming close to violating one of its commandments. In order to protect its “red lines” they created a new category of law called “Rabbinic Law,” which took important and necessary steps to ensure the sanctity of the Torah and the spiritual safety of its adherents. In fact, the opening statement of Ethics of the Fathers relates the importance of Rabbinic law by urging us to “make a safeguard for the Torah.”

I hope that Goodell and the rest of the NFL executives will continue to make player safety a priority and not succumb to the tunnel vision of its athletes.




Posted in Football.

Jeremy Lin & the American Couch Potato

“Linsanity” has captured the hearts and minds of sports fans across the world. It is, indeed, a great story about perseverance and a testament to Jeremy Lin’s hard work and dedication. This is an epic tale about an athlete unwilling to give up on his dream who, when given the chance, seized the opportunity to showcase his talents and left everyone wanting more.

Jeremy Lin embodies everything we love about America and sports. This is the “land of opportunity,” a country where anyone, with the proper focus and determination, can attain the “American dream.” America is a country of immigrants who came here seeking to fulfill their dreams of better lives and we are a people that always roots for the underdog who overcomes adversity to achieve greatness. It’s not surprising that most sports movies appeal to this American mentality by highlighting individuals and teams that rise up from the depths of despair to become champions: Hoosiers, Rudy, Major League, Mighty Ducks, and the Bad News Bears, just to name a few.

This, is also the underlying theme of “Linsanity” as well as, to a large extent, “Tebowmania.” We root for Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow to succeed because most experts have counted them out. We want them to become great, because no one dreamed that they would. And their struggles and successes assume a deeper and more personal role because we identify with them. We are the Lin’s and Tebow’s of the world who are waiting in the wings for the opportunity to showcase our skills. So when someone makes the most of their chance, we feel a sacred kinship with him or her, as though we are a part of their journey.

Yet, our affinity for their successes also creates serious challenges. For more often than not, we become so enthralled and enamored with their achievements and accomplishments, that instead of using it as motivation and inspiration to strive for greatness in our own lives, we choose to sit back and view our lives through the prism of the Jeremy Lin’s of the world. Instead of living the dream as Lin has done, we prefer to talk about the dream. Instead of being participants, we remain spectators.

This is an unfortunate reality that affects many areas of our lives. Take politics, for example. We love bantering among friends and colleagues about what needs to change in Washington or in our home states. We listen to talk radio, we read the newspaper, and spout off about the issues of the day. But we would be better served if we put that energy and excitement to good use. For all of the controversy that the Tea Party and Occupy movements have brought to our country, we must credit them for having the courage to make a difference. While we may not agree with their tactics or philosophies, we must certainly applaud their passion to act and attempt to create change to better our country.

Most of us suffer from this same common malady. Our talents have been lying dormant for years because we haven’t put them to good use. Rather than satisfying ourselves by living vicariously through the successes of others, we should strive to emulate those people in our own fields of endeavor. Jeremy Lin is an example of an athlete who wasn’t satisfied sitting at the sports bar talking about who the best player in the NBA is now, or which player he would want on his team to take the game-winning shot. Instead, Lin said, “Not only do I dream of being that guy; but I am going to be that guy.” His attitude was one of determination and passion. He wasn’t willing to live life as a spectator, he wanted to be a participant.

This is the message that our rabbis taught us when they stated in Ethics of the Fathers, that “every person should believe that the world was created for them.” They were not calling for a world in which each man was for themselves. Rather, they wanted each and every human being to internalize the belief that God created a world for them to conquer. Yes, it’s an imperfect world; but one that humanity is charged to complete. “Tikun Olam,” requires that each and every one of us do our part to perfect it. We aren’t allowed to sit idly by and grow complacent, watching as our peers and friends excel in different areas of life. For if we don’t become active participants in this world, then the work will never be finished.

Sure, it’s fun to talk about Lin, Tebow, or any other player that has beaten the odds to become successful, but we can’t forget that we are on the same exact mission. And while our task may not be as glamorous as a professional athlete’s, God is waiting and hoping that we find our vocation and use it as a means to perfect the world.

God has given us the keys to His world. Not only must we protect it and treat it with respect and honor, but we must also perfect that which he intentionally left unfinished. It does not take great effort to be an observer or onlooker, but our job is to get off the couch or the bar stool, and participate in life’s work with all the fervor and passion for that which we were created. To find our “calling” and fill that void.

Let’s use Linsanity as another opportunity to remind us that, like Lin just 7 days ago, we are ready, now, to prove our worth and greatness to the world. Go get ‘em!




Posted in Basketball.