Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday's Musings on Sports - Bacon, Go Carts and Fish

During the middle of chol hamoed, a story which had been percolating for some time became the focus of the mainstream media. Miami Marlins' manager Ozzie Guillen, who had never shied away from speaking his mind when he was the manager of the Chicago White Sox, was quoted in Time Magazine as saying that he "loved" Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. This was not the first time that Guillen had expressed his admiration for Castro, but this time it provoked a firestorm, largely because of the uniform that he was wearing.

In order to understand why Guillen provoked the response this time, a little bit of an introduction is required. For most of the last seven years, the Marlins have been ignored by baseball media and even their own fans. Although they won a World Series in 2003, the ownership had not invested in quality professional talent and the Marlins floundered. Even worse, the fans stopped coming down to watch the Marlins. Indeed, in 2011 they averaged under 19,000 fans per game (second lowest in MLB) and had a payroll under $54 million.

During the recent off season, the Marlins underwent many changes in an attempt to garner more attention. They changed their name from Florida Marlins to Miami Marlins. They signed marquee free agent players, including Jose Reyes and Heath Bell. They made an attempt to sign All-World First Baseman Albert Pujols. They brought in a big name manager (Guillen) after having three different managers in 2011. And they built a brand new, retractable roof stadium in the Little Havana section of Miami.

And then, after all these efforts to raise the profile of the team, their new manager was quoted saying that he loved Fidel Castro, the most hated man in Miami. The local Cuban-American community was in an uproar, but Guillen kept his mouth shut while the Marlins continued a road trip. The pundits speculated as to how the Marlins would react and whether this was a "fireable" offense. Guillen called a press conference and promised to answer any and all questions. But the Marlins jumped the gun and announced that they were suspending Guillen for five games. Why? Because of Bacon and Go Carts, but these two items need explanation...

On Monday of Chol Hamoed (the day before the Guillen story really exploded) I personally observed something and heard a story on the radio which helped me to understand why Guillen's statement provoked the reaction that it did.

Since the cousins were (almost) all together for chol hamoed, we decided that we would go to a small amusement park in Maryland. When we arrived there, we learned that a local yeshiva had obtained a discount package and the park was nearly full. My children, nieces and nephews stood on line for longer they would have liked, but they were not overly whiny about the wait time.

While waiting for the go-karts with two of my kids, I was faced with the problem that plagues amusement parks. Two kids were attempting to move up the line so that they would not have to wait (the line was about 45 minutes). When the kids reached me I firmly but politely said to them, "no you cannot go by". Having been on the line for more than half an hour at this time, I knew that they had not been ahead of my kids and thus they were not rejoining a parent after having taken a bathroom break. The kids (probably no more than nine or ten years old) told me that they "just wanted to see." I again told them that they would need to wait in line like everyone else.

Roughly two minutes later, a frum woman asked me if she could walk to the front of the line. I allowed her to pass and saw her approach the (non-Jewish) ride attendant. I could not hear the whole conversation, but I heard him tell her at the end of the conversation - "we have lines." She then went to the end of the line to stand with her kids.

The incident bothered me. Didn't she realize that because she and her kids were obviously frum it would be a chillul Hashem to try to jump the line? Although the park was full of frum people, there were non-Jewish patrons as well as non-Jewish staff workers at the park. By attempting to cut the line, people would see that a frum person was trying to avoid waiting and draw their own conclusions and possibly stereotype. I was barely able to resist the urge to speak with her (respectfully, of course) about the impression she was making on others.

A few hours later I was in my car driving back to NY and listening to the Mets-Nationals game on the radio. During the game, Mets' announcer Howie Rose told Josh Lewin (the new color commentator) about something that he could not believe that he saw in the press box. There was a breakfast being served and a member of the press who Rose did not identify was at the buffet. Rose painted a picture that the media member took a plate with eggs, potatoes and then added a piece of matzo. But before leaving the buffet, he put a piece of bacon the plate. Rose said that he had never seen anything like this and that it "just was not kosher."

In fairness to the unnamed media member, there is no way of knowing whether he was or was not Jewish and therefore would not be barred from having bacon with his breakfast. But the conversation made me cringe, thinking that the conclusion was being drawn that this person was Jewish because he was eating matzo on Passover and was also eating bacon.

The three stories have a common theme - people need to be aware that they are judged by their actions and the laundry they are wearing. It does not matter whether a person is a baseball manager, mommy or member of the press, they are all identified as part of a larger class of people. As such, they must know that the perception of their people (or team) is shaped by their actions.

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