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Are there any mentschen on the grid-iron?

Posted by Rabbi Ron Symons on January 11, 2016

You and I have heard it described as our generation’s immaculate reception.  What happened on Saturday night in Cincinnati electrified Pittsburgh.  I saw the game slipping away from the Steelers throughout the 4th quarter to only be surprised with the victory.

Victory wasn’t the only thing slipping away.  Morality slipped away too.  Marc Hardin described it well:

…Call the late and fateful penalties and all of the Bengals’ extraneous and certainly unnecessary behavior selfish. Call it disgraceful. Disrespectful. Say it is just deserts, that karma’s a bitch for those that botch their ways. Suggest the moment was too big for Cincinnati. Say the guiltiest were ghastly and out of control. Say the Bengals choked when it counted. They let down their teammates, an entire city. They were unprofessional and utterly lacking in cool. Say that two bad apples spoiled the whole bunch. Say what you will about the Bengals in the heat of big moments.

(While Marc only comments on the immorality of the Bengals, we know that it is not reserved to one sideline.)

Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish thinker, comes to my mind when I think about the state of professional sports as exemplified by what happened on Saturday night:

Each and every man possesses many character traits. Each trait is very different and distant from the others.

One type of man is wrathful; he is constantly angry. In contrast, there is the calm individual who is never moved to anger, or, if at all, he will be slightly angry, perhaps once during a period of several years.

There is the prideful man and the one who is exceptionally humble. There is the man ruled by his appetites – he will never be satisfied from pursuing his desires, and conversely, the very pure of heart, who does not desire even the little that the body needs.

There is the greedy man, who cannot be satisfied with all the money in the world, as Ecclesiastes 5:9 states: “A lover of money never has his fill of money.” In contrast, there is the man who puts a check on himself; he is satisfied with even a little, which is not enough for his needs, and he does not bother to pursue and attain what he lacks.

There is the miser, who torments himself with hunger, gathering his possessions close to himself. Whenever he spends a penny of his own, he does so with great pain. Conversely, there is the spendthrift, who consciously wastes his entire fortune.

All other traits follow the same pattern of contrast. For example: the overly elated and the depressed; the stingy and the freehanded; the cruel and the softhearted; the coward and the rash, and the like.

Mishneh Torah, De’ot 1:1

Maimonides is know for advocating for the middle ground, everything in moderation.  I yearn for that middle ground in our world: it is called ‘being a mentsch‘ – living up to the best human being each of us has the potential to be; living a life filled with integrity.

If there aren’t any mentschen (plural of mentsch) on the grid-iron, then maybe we should overpopulate the stands, the sports bars, our neighborhoods, our family rooms… with as many as we can possibly muster.



As always, I am happy to continue the conversation.  Contact me at [email protected].

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