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Winning Isn’t Everything

Los Angeles is in a winning frenzy and it isn’t even award season!  Los Angeles teams, the Kings, Ducks and the Clippers are battling in their respective sports ‘ playoffs.

Even if you are not a great basketball or hockey fan you can’t escape the determination and grit that these players show during each game.  Add to that both the Dodgers and Angels play almost daily along with Los Angeles soccer teams the Galaxy and Chivas USA.  Women’s Basketball season begins next week and we are home to the LA Sparks.  And I couldn’t mention pro sports without mentioning the LA Lakers who had perhaps their worst season ever. It’s a veritable rainbow of colors and mascots!

But even with all the competitive play and the enjoyment fans of all stripes get from cheering on their favorite players and teams it is clear that winning isn’t everything.

The Donald Sterling debacle of racist attitudes that were revealed publically proves that sports have something to say about many other issues.  Winning isn’t everything.  More than contracts and coaching changes, the state of sports and the owners and players and yes, the fans matter. Attitudes matter because they infect and affect the nature of the game.   When Sterling’s words and disregard of people of color were revealed by TMZ and the subsequent reaction teach us that the lessons of our Jewish tradition should be heeded.  We are taught that all people are created in the image of God-b’tzelem Elohim.  I guess Mr. Sterling missed that lesson in Religious School.

The deep wound of racism in our country continues to bleed.  No matter whether it comes in the form of a basketball team owner, a rancher in Nevada, or being picked up for driving while black, our country must confront the deadly divisions around race in our country.  Where can we have those conversations in safety? There are deep reservoirs of hurt, resentment and anger in our country around race and discrimination that still exists.  And we cannot sweep it under the rug.

Judaism is supposed to offer us guidance in learning to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Judaism teaches us that we cannot judge a person by the color of their skin from the story of Miriam, Moses’ sister who pointed out the dark skin color of his wife Tziporrah. Tzipporah was a very righteous woman who helped bring her sons into the covenant with Abraham even when Moses her husband neglected it.  It was Miriam who was punished for her racism. And in the Bible’s ironic voice, Miriam was turned snow white even as she pointed out Tziporra dark skin! The Torah story teaches us that a person must be judged by her deeds not by the color of her skin.  A winning attitude is about living a righteous and upright life and anyone can strive to achieve this.

So yes, as the playoffs continue, we cheer for our various teams and we hope they win. But winning isn’t everything.  Words and deeds matter and how we treat one another. We still have a long way to go before we will be truly color blind.  In the meantime, we have to engage in the conversation about race openly and honestly and our own roles in continuing to support institutional racism.  And most importantly, we ought to strive to live by our Jewish values and overcome the racism around us. Then the only colors we ought to see are our team colors!

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