Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Musings on Sports - MLB, Uniformity and When They Just Don't Get It

As everyone is well aware, yesterday was the anniversary of one of the most tragic days in American History. 9/11, a day which will forever burn in our nation's collective consciousness. The day that American innocence was lost and we came to understand that 1/5th of the world hates the United States for being a free society.

In the days following September 11, 2001, I can recall feeling overwhelmed by the sense of loss, even though I did not lose anyone close to me. The morning of September 12, 2001, I lay in bed with Mrs KB listening to the radio, without the desire to do anything other than to hear about the tragic events and to hope that good news about survivors would be forthcoming. However, the longer that I listened to the radio, the more depressed I became until I finally forced myself to get out of bed and to go to minyan.

Over the next few days, the news was constantly about the events of 9/11 and at times I was forced to turn the radio off, just so that I could escape from the depressing stories. And then things began to change and the world started to emerge from the ash gray dust of ground zero. For me, this emergence began with baseball and then the NFL starting to play games again.

However, the sporting events were not played in a vacuum. The players showed their respect and admiration for the first responders and those who were going off to fight the Taliban. Most poignant to me were the players who wore the hats of those who had been to ground zero and suffered losses - the NYPD, FDNY and PAPD.

So now, on the ten year anniversary of that tragic day, sports was again attempting to salve the nation's collective spirit. Countless professional and collegiate sporting events featured tributes to those who had fallen and patriotic displays for those who went off to war. Wanting to do their part, the NY Mets asked Major League Baseball for permission to wear NYPD, FDNY and PAPD hats rather than their league issued hats. However, the league (acting through Joe Torre) refused to grant the Mets permission. It was ironic, as the Mets had worn those hats (albeit against the MLB rules) back in 2001 as a sign of respect and now they were prevented from paying tribute. It could hardly be argued that MLB was unaware of the meaning of the game being played in NY on September 11, 2011, since MLB had moved the game to 8 PM so that it could compete with Sunday Night Football (which also featured a NY team playing in New York).

MLB's refusal to allow the technical violation of its uniform rules can hardly be defended and the articles that have run about the decision have been largely critical of MLB. Indeed, at least one story has suggested that MLB is upset that the Mets even asked for permission to wear the hats.

The decision not to allow the Mets to wear the non-conforming hats makes me think about the Torah's concept of hora'as sha'ah - dictates of the time. Occasionally, the law may state that something is forbidden, but the particular circumstance may be outweighed by some communal or humanitarian concern. The ability to act against the general legal rule is not to be taken lightly, however a proper Rabbinic authority will look at the scenario and rule that a particular course of action is permissible. I can recall hearing about a particular Rav who was visited by a sick young girl who was looking for a bracha. Although halacha does not generally allow a male to touch a female non-relative, the Rabbi reached out to touch her shoulder to reassure her that she would recover. Was this technically improper under halacha? Yes. But the reassuring physical contact was more important to this young lady.

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