(JTA) — “Deflategate,” the controversy surrounding the New England Patriots that has made national news, made its way to a Houston business conference led by a rabbi.
Rabbi Yossi Grossman, dean of the Jewish Ethics Institute, on Monday transformed the football prattle into a high-minded look at ethics on the playing field in his bimonthly talk before some city businesspeople. To make his points, he cited the Exodus story, Talmud, the rabbinic authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the Code of Jewish Law and prohibitions against theft of money and of mind.
Theft of mind means presenting one’s credentials misleadingly, to the presenter’s benefit, Grossman said.
“The question is, who was actually committing fraud here? Was it the quarterback, the coach, the owner?” Grossman asked.
Discussions of right and wrong in sports typically tend toward on-field strategies: a baseball manager yanking a starter or a football coach opting for a field goal rather than a first down.
Rarely do ethical dilemmas enter the discourse, at least to the degree of “Deflategate” – allegations that the Patriots had deflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage during their Jan. 18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship game. Their 45-7 victory earned the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday against the defending NFL champion Seattle Seahawks.
Ray Rice / Getty Images
“Justice, justice, shall you pursue,” we are taught — and what could be more just than punishing a man shown, on video, punching and knocking out his wife in what seems like a brutal, cruel attack?
Thus have we seen, in the last 72 hours, a cascade of condemnations of (now former) Ravens running back Ray Rice, suspended from the NFL and facing criminal charges. Perhaps most articulately, my friend Jodi Kantor wrote movingly in the New York Times about how Janae Rice, who has defended her husband, shows all the signs of a trapped, coerced and battered wife.
The only trouble is — all this is guesswork.
In fact, the public judgment of Ray Rice is a rush to judgment, and a uniquely 21st century combination of the surveillance state, ruthless corporate capitalism and celebrity culture. It makes a scapegoat out of Rice and lets us all cluck our tongues while the gladiator sport that is professional football can continue to entertain us.
If you habitually discard the sports section, you might have missed news of European soccer’s biggest transfer story since Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid four years ago. It involves Madrid again, in fact – Tottenham Hotspur’s star winger Gareth Bale is rumoured to be on the verge of moving there for a record-breaking $129 million.
The chance to play in the Champions League for one of Europe’s most successful clubs is a huge draw for Bale. He wants to leave – or rather, Bale hasn’t denied that he wishes to.
But there’s a snag. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is said to be holding out for more money. Even though Bale was purchased for a mere $7.6 million from Southampton in 2007, Levy wishes to bide time until Madrid offer as much as $152 million, perhaps even throwing in a player as a makeweight for the loss of the most gifted player Spurs have had for years, decades even.
News of Bale’s desire to get away from north London has turned some Spurs fans against him – such is soccer, where supporters are at once tribal and fickle. But ire has also been directed at the chairman – some of it anti-Semitic. Jay Stoll, General Secretary of the London School of Economics Students’ Union, highlighted yesterday the stream of abusive tweets directed towards Levy:
Twitter is a wonderful medium, but even at the best of times to use Stoll’s words it is a “cesspit of filth,” whether that be racism, sexism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism. Only this week, feminist campaigners in the UK have been pushing for a ‘report abuse’ button to be added to twitter so that those who threaten to rape or murder women directly can be weeded out and dealt with. To this extent, the tweets directed towards Levy are unsurprising, and in that there is much to be saddened about and ashamed of.
These tweets, however, also raise an important question of whether how Levy is portrayed in the media at-large reinforces a certain image or stereotype. For, over the past several seasons, Levy has acquired a reputation as the toughest negotiator in English soccer. It has become cliché to say that Levy is hard-nosed, tough, stubborn, or uncompromising.
Chelsea midfielder Yossi Benayoun says he is “trying everything to play in the MLS next season” ahead of the Israeli national team’s soccer friendly against Honduras in New York on Sunday, June 2. The game, Israel’s first in New York for over 35 years, will take place at Citi Field, after the annual Celebrate Israel parade.
The English Premier League star, who won a Europa League champions medal with London giants Chelsea this season, said that he is currently in talks with several clubs. His contract expires in June and “playing in America is one of my favorite options and I am trying everything to find a team in the MLS.”
The Israeli national team captain, and former Liverpool and Arsenal player, denied that his wishes to leave the English Premier League are a result of his being a repeated target of anti-Semitic hate speech on Twitter from British fans, saying that he thinks “the whole issue was exaggerated.” Benayoun continued to say that “there are racist people all over the world, even in Israel, and I don’t pay attention to those people no matter where I play.”
The Drunken Ship pub in Rome was host to 30 Tottenham Hotspur fans, in town to watch their soccer team’s Europa League encounter with S.S. Lazio last Wednesday night. At approximately 1 a.m. Thursday, Lazio so-called ultras —extremist hooligan fans — turned up at the bar armed with stones, metal bars, and knuckle dusters and clad in motorcycle helmets and scarves to obscure their identities.
The ultras smashed up the place, breaking windows and turning over tables, and then proceeded to assault the Tottenham fans. Of those who attempted to escape, Ashley Mills, 25, was stabbed in the leg with a switch blade and received several wounds to the head. The whole incident was over in around ten to twenty minutes, but in all ten Spurs supporters were injured, one seriously. Two Lazio ultras, Francesco Ianari, 26, and Mauro Pinnelli, 27, have been charged with attempted murder for the attack on Mills.
Police are currently investigating the motive behind the assault, with a number of factors pointing towards anti-Semitism.
Lazio has had a long association with Italian fascism. It was as the club favoured by Benito Mussolini, and this connection has not dimmed amongst the ultras who continue to unveil pro-fascist banner at matches. Witnesses at the scene of the assault heard the assailants shouting “Jews!” as they entered the bar and carried out the battering, and at the game itself on Thursday evening home supporters chanted “Juden Tottenham” as the two teams played out a 0-0 draw.
Lazio fans also unfurled “Free Palestine” banners in the stands.
Fans of London’s Tottenham Hotspur soccer team have long referred to their club) as the “Yid Army”, seizing and transforming a nasty pejorative into a peculiar badge of honour, as a way of pushing back against their abusers and detractors.
Not the first time, however, this modern tradition is being called into question, with London’s Society of Black Lawyers threatening legal action against Tottenham if their supporters do not retire their chants. Chair Peter Herbert told The Daily Mail, “In discussions with members of the Jewish community, we were made aware that this practice is still continuing and it has to come to an end. If neither Tottenham FC nor the FA are willing to take a stand then we will report the matter to the Metropolitan Police for investigation and, if necessary, prosecution.”
A deadline of November 20 has been set.