Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Kosher Pigskin?
I first really heard of professional football from my 6th grade Gemara rebbi (zichrono livrocha). If I remember correctly, we were learning perek Hashutfin (Bava Basra), and we were given hand-outs covering the various "kinyanim" (modes of taking possession), and which kinyanim are considered valid/invalid, etc. Next to each type of kinyan (or non-kinyan) there was a line or two describing it, with a picture (cut out of a sports magazine) of a football player in the process of that act and a short description. The top of the sheets said, "If you know your football rules, you know hilchos kinyanim." The class rebbi also promised a trip to a football game for the kids that would get an "A" on the major exam (sure enough, we got to go see the Miami Dolphins beat our local team). From then on, all through my school years, I always kept an eye on the football scores in the paper.
We had kids from many different backgrounds – many were not from religious homes – but they all liked his Gemara class. The rebbi would use sports references regularly and kept everyone involved – it was quite brilliant. Moreover, if the Dolphins (our rebbi's team of choice) would win on Sunday, we would get an extra 15 minutes tacked on to recess. It was an exciting year and (much to the chagrin of our rebbi) our local team actually ended up reaching the "Super bowl"… only to suffer humiliating defeat. I actually told a friend, "To love sports is to love G-d." But later, after moving to NY, I was to find out that this was not a commonly held view...
To most frum Jews professional sports is an anathema. Maybe they would agree that it's ok if it is used as a tool to involve more kids in learning, or to teach a class the types of kinyanim and their ramifications, but very few would maintain that outside of that specific use, there are any redeeming qualities. I don't know, maybe they're right…but I'm not sure.
One side argues: "Hakol, kol Yaakov; v'hayadaim, yedei Eisav." Sports is usually defined as midas Eisav, and improper for the Bnei Yaakov. In professional sports, they glorify people that are generally not refined and behavior that is perhaps violent, unspiritual, empty and not necessarily too virtuous. It can be an incredible waste of time and energy (and probably money as well), and runs counter to the values and goals we try to promote. Moreover, aside from the connection to the forbidden Greek arenas, the venues are generally filled with people reveling in coarse, extremely base, behavior – not to mention that it often overlaps into negative elements such as gambling, and is often considered a "gateway" to a decidedly unspiritual world…
Yet, the counter-argument runs along these lines: In many ways sports contains quite positive messages. Aside from the rule that there are no atheists at a ball game (just witness the amount of prayer that goes on when a football team is down 6 points with only time for one more play), we can find many metaphors for life: Loyalty, hard work, focus, goals, teamwork, overcoming great odds, pride in one's purpose, never giving up, unity, dedication, etc. From sports we can learn Hashgocha; we can see the value of the individual to the team and the team to the individual; we can see the value of doing things the right way; we can regularly see wondrous things – unbelievable displays of G-d given talent – not really any different than a masterpiece in a museum, a musical piece at a symphony, or an eagle soaring in the sky.
Moreover, sports – especially spectator sports – have helped create an environment that allows for more tolerance. I know that may sound bizarre, but in this country the fact that people invest great passion into their sports – a seemingly meaningless endeavor – means, in a way, that they don't invest those passions in some of the former great pastimes…persecuting others. A Giants fan may "hate" a Jets fan. A Yankee fan might "hate" a Red Sox fan; but how much blood is spilled? Does this really hurt anyone? Let's compare that to the good ol' days, when hatred was saved for use against those with other beliefs, other races or other groups of people. Just take this quote from sportswriter Rick Reilly: "Sports encourages good healthy hate. If I'm an Auburn fan, I can hate you, an Alabama fan, from the bottom of my hater, and it's all right. Who knows where all that hate would go without sports?"
Yes, I know, the question remains: What about us – what should be our view when it comes to spectator sports? Well, let's be clear: Bittul zman isn't a joke; we only have a little time on earth, so we must use it wisely. Also, it is obviously improper to act like animals, and we certainly don't want to emulate improper behavior. The life a Jew must be directed to G-dly pursuits. So, I don't encourage attending ball games, but I think they have their place. As long as it can be done in a "Jewish" way I don't see a problem with a father taking his son, or a rebbi taking his class, to a ball game. There should be thought about tznius concerns, language concerns, and even moshav leitzim concerns, but is it worse than many other forms of entertainment or pass-times? I don't think so.
Sports can be beneficial in many ways, and although there are objectionable matters that surround sports that should be avoided, I don't see anything inherently wrong with it. Nevertheless, there are far better things that we should be doing then, say, tuning in to the Super Bowl. Still, I thank G-d for sports. Sports helped me and my class through three years of Gemara back in elementary school. It was a uniting force in class, it gave us something harmless to talk about; it united the top of the class with the bottom, and it even gave us life lessons. And while I no longer lose sleep over who makes or misses the playoffs, I can't name many players, and I haven't been to a football game since 6th grade, I still glance at an occasional box score.
Ok, I know. I skipped the biggest objection, the one that I ran into in the Kosher cheeseburger issue: non-Jewish origins. With that issue in mind I would like to qualify my position: 1. I am an American kid from a small town and I was already exposed to things like this -- for those who have not been exposed, it is probably best to avoid it. 2. I don't want to impose interest in spectator sports on anyone, chas v'shalom. Really, more than anything else, I am milamed zchus for those who did, or do, have such interests.