Aharay Mot / Kedoshim: On Matters of Integrity
Thursday, April 26, 2018…. Tonight, fanatical football fans will celebrate a national holiday: The National Football League Draft. To the disinterested majority, the draft refers to the elite college football players who will be selected by professional teams to play for them. What used to be a modest event has expanded into a national frenzy (not quite Super Bowlesque but a frenzy nonetheless). This year’s event is being staged within the context of an insane party atmosphere; the culmination of months and months of ad nauseam discussion, debate and commentary by sports stations, talking heads and your typical sports enthusiasts. The latter suspend all pretensions of sanity and devote two or three months of their lives to inane conversation about who will go where in this draft. Although some of us take benign interest in the event, for football fanatics the notion of ‘get a life’ certainly rings true. From all the time and attention devoted to this thing, one could argue that fanaticism is the norm rather than the exception.
We are not debating world peace here. There is no discussion about terrorism, our economy, immigration or the Russians tampering with our national elections. So, why all the hullabaloo and disproportionate attention to learning where a bunch of post-college students receive their first job offer?
The organization behind the insanity is the National Football League, a company headed by a group of mega-millionaires. Their CEO is a Commissioner, who relates to these college kids more as commodities than as human beings. The objective is to create as much hype as money can buy. The media and other organizations devise, revise, publish and comment about mock drafts: predicting the teams to which these anxious athletes will go as well as to the order in which they will be selected. Aside from the NFL encouraging this frenzy, team executives fuel the fire by revealing little and mostly inaccurate/false teasers to further the hype and to call attention to themselves. The NFL laughs all the way to the bank while the executives are basically lying, never intending to reveal their genuine intentions before draft night. All of the above is presented to zealous football enthusiasts as a way to create a major spectacle, calling attention to football but mainly to create an economic boon for the League. Greed has no limitations. Seemingly intelligent people throughout America buy into this stuff, and that is what the NFL counts on.
Although it may seem like a stretch, all of the above reflects a commandment/teaching in our Shabbat Torah reading Acharay Mot/Kedoshim (a combined portion this week). Among the commandments in Kedoshim is:
Do no put a stumbling block before the blind.
The teaching refers to any bad-faith misleading of an unsuspecting or trusting individual.
I believe the command has far-reaching application. Even when adults must bear consequences and responsibility for their own actions, no one should take advantage of them for any reason. The NFL knows its passionate audience and will do anything to exploit those passions. In American culture, we are warned “let the buyer beware.” In Judaism, however, the prevailing theory is “let the seller beware.” Regardless of who the buyer may be, any seller is obligated to be honest and truthful in all his/her dealings. The National Football League has earned a reputation for greed and for placing emphasis on economics rather than on the young athletes who make the League successful. Yes, these athletes make oodles of money, but the League does not suffer. Through its spectacle tonight and through the ongoing chicanery (and deception) of its executives, the NFL has used a fanatical public (and a news-thirsty media) to sell its product. Meanwhile, the League has only addressed serious head injuries under duress, and it still ignores the former players with permanent and even life-threatening injuries. Again, adults – whether players or fans – make their own decisions and football is a popular and enjoyable sport to so many. Yet, what the sport claims it is doing in name of its fan base is merely a ruse to become even wealthier than ever. My point is that even if we hold the public accountable for buying into this insanity, any organization or company still has the obligation to conduct itself with the highest level of integrity.
Regrettably, placing stumbling blocks before the blind is a common practice not only in football. Years ago, the actress and activist Marlo Thomas created a children’s album Free to Be You and Me. In one of the segments, Carol Channing warns children not to be enticed by clever and convincing advertisers, whose sole objective is to guilt you into buying their product. Even if a company believes in what it sells, how many companies place public above product? How often will a company willingly risk losing money or reputation in order to stop selling a product it learns to be faulty and perhaps dangerous?
Yes, we adults bear responsibility for how we spend our money and for how we live and conduct our lives. At least in Judaism, the onus is placed on the seller to respect the sanctity of all individuals. Even if adults bear responsibility for their choices and even if a seller has a right to make a living, there are parameters of moral conduct not to be bypassed or abused.
If you are a football fan, enjoy the Draft. But, at least be aware of the underlying intentions….