point counterpoint

Green sits for Yom Kippur

Shawn Green is a professional baseball star and a practicing Jew, and last weekend he found himself caught between these two parts of his identity. His L.A. Dodgers stood only 1.5 games ahead of the San Francisco Giants in the race for the NL West pennant, the very team they were set to play in a key three-game series.

However, Yom Kippur—the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar—stretched from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and so Green would have to miss two games to observe it.

He thus found himself torn between loyalties; on the one hand to his family, religion and tradition and on the other to his job and his teammates.

Now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for those with true loyalty to their teammates and who are dedicated to the work they do, but to me the choice is clear: obligations to one’s values and family should come before one’s job. No question.

As much as I love sports, for professional athletes they constitute a job. And an exclusive focus on an occupation isn’t what makes someone a good human being. It’s the other things—the people and the principles that you hold dear—that make you a better person.

Let me put it this way: if Shawn Green were a dentist, or a store clerk, or a teacher, his taking time off to observe a day very important to him and to his family and to their religious traditions, no one would have said anything at all.

But because he’s a professional athlete, many now suggest his sport should take precedence over his beliefs. Why is it that an athlete should be expected to abandon his values for his profession? No one else is expected to do so.

It’s okay for Green to miss a game because he’s observing a holy day. It’s even okay for him to miss two big ones. He’s still a decent person. I mean, unless he regularly beats people up and nobody told me.

Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers’ star pitcher of the sixties, and Hank Greenberg, legendary slugger for the Detroit Tigers, were both Jewish and both faced this question during their careers, and both decided to sit. Greenberg did so in 1934—an era when anti-Semitism was much more prevalent than it is now—and it all worked out okay.

Greenberg became a hero to the American Jewish community for his unprecedented stand, and the athletic community continued to respect him and admire his achievements.

Green has done the right thing by taking the time off to observe an occasion important to him and his family and his community.

--Megan Grittani-Livingston

Professional athletes are not like you and I—and it’s not just that they make more money, although that’s part of it.

Their activities and responsibilities are unique. The activity part sounds unreal.

It is the responsibilities that make life difficult for these millionaires. The responsibilities of being highly public figures, whose abilities in games that often come down to mere chance are rigidly scrutinized by millions of people. That’s pressure. If Drew Bledsoe is sucking, I know the media and fans like me will let him hear about it.

It’s not pathetic to be passionate about sports and the people who play them. The genius of these individuals is their ability to perform physical feats that are essentially impossible for the rest of us. More often they inspire awe rather than ire. And now we come to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shawn Green.

His team is in the thick of a pennant race which includes two games conflicting with the religious observance of Yom Kippur. He sat out Saturday’s game against the San Francisco Giants—which his team lost.

He is a key player on the team and I disagree with his decision. Now you must be thinking, last week he’s into anarchy, this week he’s anti-religious, what’s next, a diatribe against babies—those ugly little things? It’s not quite as simple as that.

You see, athletes are beset by outside influences which conflict with the performance of their professional duties all the time. Last December—the day after his father died—Brett Favre famously quarterbacked his team to a 41-7 rout of the Oakland Raiders, throwing for 399 yards and four touchdowns. Favre was emotional. Athletes are human. But what he did is applicable to the Green issue as well: he used his sport to work through his grief and express his devotion to his dead father.

Athletes are akin to artists. They express themselves through their art. In a way then, their personal world and the world of sports are not separate. Brett Favre chose to work through his grief with his football family.

Is the situation with Green and his Jewish faith that dissimilar? If this was Brent Mayne—the Dodgers’ backup catcher—this wouldn’t be an issue. But Green is a superstar who gets paid superstar money. Implicit in that is a responsibility to your fans and your team. I’m not saying that the religion should bend to the demands of the modern athlete, I just think Green could have resolved his professional duties and personal beliefs in a way that honoured both his faith and his contract.

--Gordon Miller

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