Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday's Musings on Sports - Bountygate - is this how the Matza crumbles?

Over the last month or so, I have been transfixed by the development of Bounty-Gate. As most football fans know, the scandal involved a pool which rewarded New Orleans Saints players for injuring opposition players. When the story first broke the focus of the media was on the figures at the top of the pyramid - the Saints assistant coaches, head coach and general manager who either knew about the pool, condoned it, participated in rewards or looked the other way.

Late Sunday night the story took an interesting turn as the media focus turned to the players who were involved in the head hunting. A source revealed that the NFLPA (the players union) had advised players that when they were being interviewed by the league in connection with the scandal, they should have a union rep (standard operating procedure) as well as a lawyer. The theory was that unnamed authorities were considering bringing criminal charges against the players for intentionally injuring other players.

This morning, the Mike & Mike show took this story to the extreme as Greenie (after evoking an admission from Golic that he did try to knock out other players) said that he wanted to make a citizen's arrest. They later brought Jay Bilas onto the show, but he begged out of representing Greenie in this endeavor as he had already been retained to bring suit against them on behalf of the "Cornpoke Gazette."

While it seems very far fetched that a prosecutor could bring charges in connection with injuries sustained in a sport where it is legal to hit and players regularly get injured on "clean plays", I began to think to myself - why would the players join a pool like this? The "payouts" for the hits were "only" $1,000 - $2,500 per player taken down. While awards of this type would be meaningful to the average middle class family, the NFL players making these hits had a median salary of $770,000 in 2009. Would an average Joe shoplift a fifty cent pack of gum and jeopardize his livelihood and freedom? Of course not. So why would a player earning three quarters of a million dollars annually put himself in a position where he could lose his ticket in order to pick up an extra thousand or two thousands dollars per game (max)?

The question made me think about a shiur that I heard from R' Frand about the matza that we eat at the seder. Early on in the seder we say the phrase "HaLachma Anya" - this is the bread of poverty that we ate in Egypt. R' Frand asked - why is it that we eat matza at the seder and point to this as the bread of poverty? Isn't the seder supposed to be a time that we celebrate being freed from Egypt? We should be rejoicing with raisin challah or some other rich bread and saying - thank you Hashem for taking us out of Egypt and making us free men!

Before answering the question, R' Frand prefaced his remarks by asking the question - would you rather be poor and happy or rich and unhappy? He said that the question had been asked to high school students and they overwhelmingly chose the rich and unhappy. He then posed the question to 8th graders via teleconference, but they were not as forthcoming with their opinions.

R' Frand asked how can a person say, I will have all the money that I want, but be unhappy? Doesn't everyone want to be happy? The answer is that in their minds they cannot be unhappy if they have money.

This can be a possible rationale for the actions of the players. They have well paying jobs, but the overwhelming desire for a few extra bucks blinds them.

The haggada teaches us the opposite concept. The seder starts by saying this is the bread of slaves. Why do we mention the matza and eat it? We read that the reason we eat matza is because the Jews were in a rush when they left Egypt and the matza could not rise. But by remembering this as a free man, isn't this the bread of freemen that we are using to remember that Hashem took us out of Egypt? The answer is yes - its both the bread of the poor and the wealthy. If you are happy, then its the bread of the rich man. If you are not, its the bread of the poor man.

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