Its been a few weeks since I had an opportunity to do the Monday sports blog post. But during that time it seems like there has been a non-stop flow of athletes behaving badly on the field of play. Still there have been a few stories which serve as small light in the darkness of professional sports.
Years ago "Sir Charles" aka Charles Barkley famously stated "I’m not a role model. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids." But being a professional athlete is about being a role model, even if the athletes being paid megabucks don't want to own up to their responsibilities. The non stop buffet of commercials feature professional athletes, not teachers or Rabbis or community leaders.
Even when the actual sporting events are on, the athletes feel no compunction about strutting their stuff in a show of "look at me." But even these pale in comparison with the poor sporstmanship which is plaguing sports.
Take for example Vontaze Burfict of the Cincinati Bengals. I have followed this player since he graduated college and was looking to enter the NFL draft. Because of his inability to control his temper and numerous on and off the field indiscretions, Burfict was not drafted. Some of the draftniks were hoping the Jets would sign him as an undrafted free agent and if the decision was based solely on talent it would have been a "no-brainer."
But Burfict often conducts himself as if he lacks the little voice in his brain which says "maybe this is not a good idea." He has been fined for hitting late, hitting players in the groin and intentionally twisting ankles and wrists when making tackles. But his escapades at the end of last week's game against the Steelers cost his team the chance to move on in the playoffs for the first time since I was in college. Not to mention the damage (perhaps permanent) done to Antonio Brown who was on the receiving end of a needlessly vicious hit. And Burfict did not even understand what he did was wrong as he immediately protested that he hit with his shoulder and not his helmet --all the while ignoring that he had struck a defenseless receiver in the head. I wonder whether the Steelers could have beaten the Broncos this week with a healthy Big Ben and Brown. And for this, Burfict was suspended only three regular season games next year. (For more on this click here here-).
An even more horrible display of poor sportsmanship occurred yesterday in college sports. While I can't say that I am a fan of PAC 10 basketball (my attention has always been focused on the Big East), I could not miss the story about Oregon State's Jarmal Reid. With slightly less than 3 minutes to play in Oregon State's game against Utah, the Utes center bumped Reid, who then fell to the ground. No foul was called. So Reid stuck his leg out and intentionally tripped referee Tommy Nunez. Reid was ejected, but even afterwards he protested. He has since been suspended four games. (For more on this click here here).
But perhaps the most horrifying story involved a referee, player and coach who tussled in a minor hockey game in Canada. As can be seen in the video of the brawl (click here for a link here) the referee steps over the line of trying to pull apart the fighting players and he actually clotheslines a player who is no longer fighting with anyone. Immediately thereafter a coach/trainer jumps in and attacks the referee.
But with all the negative there have been some heartwarming stories of players and former players who have made inspirational steps such as the news that Devin Still's daughter is now cancer free, (to see the story click here here) or the story of a Latvian born Israeli hockey player who learned to play roller hockey in Israel and was the first overall pick by the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL draft (to see the story on youtube click here here).
The story which appealed to me the most was an interview with Mike Piazza the day before he found out that he had been selected to the baseball Hall of Fame. When asked what he felt about his chances to get into the HOF, he answered "I can't hit any more home runs, so we'll just have to see."
Piazza's comment reminded me of the concept of this world being a conduit to the world of eternal life - Olam Haba. We try to do what we can in this world to earn the points (Mitzvos) we need to get into Olam Haba. If we try hard, Hashem will assist us. If not, or if G-d forbid one works at trying to do bad deeds, Hashem may help that person along the path to the lower world. This is most obvious with the original Pharaoh (no, not the horse) about whom we read that Hashem hardened his heart because he had worked so hard to reject Hashem's message.
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