Athletics has always been the great equalizer, the playing field where human beings could contend with their strength, mind, and spirits against each other. Going back to the ancient Olympics, athletic competitions bonded people together, and spirituality has always been an integral part of the process. The Olympics were competitions in front of and to earn the favor of the Greek gods, and great athletes have always known that the true competition is inward…to excel past their supposed limitations into the heights. There are many parallels (even within our neuro-physiology) between athletic excellence and spiritual praise. As Ken Ravizza, the great sports psychologist who worked with so many MLB athletes once said, “A great athlete is like a priest, he stands there and makes himself vulnerable before God.”
What happened that athletes now kneel not in respect for God, but to protest a nation that has given them the opportunity to reap fortunes of money by playing sports?
Throughout my lifetime I watched great teams invoke prayer for their success like the armies of old. Like most children, I had my heroes, many of whom were athletes. My favorite was Sandy Koufax, who was called “the left hand of God”, was an amazing pitcher, and yet stayed true to his religious beliefs and would not pitch on Jewish holidays. It gave me hope that you could observe your religion and still excel in sports. As I got older, I saw team after team of Olympic and professional athletes thank God for their blessings and success.
Where did this Divine gratitude disappear to?
Sports has always been a place where limits could be pushed on the field, and personal beliefs were kept off. When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, he was able to battle the bigots not by screaming, but by hitting. Not by whining against all the taunts and hatred, but by fielding better. He was a hero who stopped the prejudice by showing those bigots that they were wrong: a black man could be as great as anyone else on the baseball field and deserved respect not as a “black man,” but as an athlete and human being. To paraphrase the great Dr. King, he showed the world that everyone (athletes included) should be judged based on their skill, not the color of their skin.
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Dr. King also recognized the power of using athletic success as a platform for political beliefs, but not on the field. Rather, he encouraged athletes to take their popularity and speak off the field for what is right, as individuals who were both great athletes and courageous men for a cause. Shortly after King’s death, Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power Salute at the Olympics. They did it as individuals with a passion, not as a practice for the American team, the USOC, or the Games. They used their individual notoriety to promote a passionate belief, without forcing anyone else to adopt their stance. They were heroes in their own way, all of them.
But we now live in an environment where bullies filled with hate have the ability to dictate practices. Where the loudest shout down what is right and righteous to push people to surrender to their dogma. And their hate has now pushed itself into acceptance on an institutional level.
Professional football, basketball, and now baseball have institutionally bent a knee to the pressure from Black Lives Matter. Sadly, there have been many injustices throughout the centuries against African Americans because of the color of their skin, and there are some injustices that continue today due to disgusting prejudices. Those injustices need to be corrected. But not through the adoption or support of an organization that is as hateful as BLM.
The Black Lives Matter organization has never repudiated nor denied its manifesto and practices, which are committed to Marxism (which includes atheism), a rewriting of history, hate for anyone who disagrees with them, and anti-Semitism. They call for the destruction of Israel, which they call an “apartheid state” that “practices genocide.” Many of their leaders, such as Melina Abdullah, the head of BLM Los Angeles, claim Louis Farrakhan as their spiritual advisor…a man whose hate-filled dogma has for decades wanted every Jew “exterminated.” They consciously have chosen locations for their “protests” that are Jewish neighborhoods so that the ensuing riots would cause the residents to “feel pain.”
And yet somehow, professional sports organizations have adopted and supported this organization by placing “Black Lives Matter” on the fields and courts.
It is one thing for an athlete like Colin Kaepernick to make an individual choice not to stand for the national anthem. I find it rude, disrespectful, and disgusting on many levels; but I applaud his passion and I treasure that we live in a country where he has that right. Like Smith and Carlos before him, he is using his popularity as a public figure to further his beliefs.
But for the professional sports organizations to endorse the BLM organization; for them to put black lives above any other lives (again, all lives matter); for them to consciously put BLM on fields, pitching mounds, and uniforms is an insult to the very essence of athletics throughout history.
A great irony is that if BLM had its way, professional sports would not even be able to exist financially, and these same athletes, owners, and organizations would be out of work. High-paying professional sports doesn’t exist as part of Marxism.
It is profoundly sad that these organizations have caved in to the pressure of the hate-filled BLM organization, especially since there are so many other positive alternatives. They could have placed a powerful statement like “No Place For Hate” on their fields. The organizations could have endorsed and supported the NAACP, which in spite of the recent anti-Semitic trope voiced by its Philadelphia chapter (which has never been a majority opinion within the NAACP) continually fights for equality and justice; or any of the many similar organization such as the United Negro College Fund. They could even have chosen to allow players to support any political cause or party through patches on their uniforms (and even a brief look at BLM demonstrates that is very much a “political” cause).
But the loudest voices were heard; the bullies got their way (so far); and the organizations surrendered to supporting an organization that is devoted to hate and to the destruction of their very industry.
As a Jew and an American, I am no longer willing to support these sports until they stop endorsing BLM as an organization, and specifically reject the organization itself. It is not easy to stay away from watching baseball, especially with two children who have always been committed to the Dodgers. But when I showed my children the hate ensconced at the roots of the BLM organization, even they realized that they need to stay away from their beloved sport until the sport once again regains its integrity.
Until professional athletic leagues return to being based in performance and not politics; until the day returns when we can go to a game and not be blasted with advertisements for an organization that wants Jews destroyed and Marxism proliferated; until we can once again watch sports and only be concerned with the score and not the social agenda…we will be avoiding all sporting events that continue to support the BLM organization. We base our actions on our values, and so for now, we will be staying away from these major sports.
I hope you will do the same.
Rabbi Michael Barclay is the Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, CA. (www.NerSimcha.org) and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together”. He can be reached directly at [email protected], and followed on Facebook at facebook.com/Rabbi.Michael.Barclay