Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Some of My Best Friends…

There has been a lot of ink spilled over the last few days about TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) decision to not accommodate one of its member sports team’s religious requests. The issue involves the Beren Academy - an Orthodox Jewish high school in Texas whose basketball team has made the playoffs. The problem is that the next playoff game is on Friday night – Shabbos.

First let me say that I am proud of the attitude expressed by members of the team. From Fox News:

"There's nothing in the Jewish religion that doesn't want us to play basketball," Beren senior point guard Isaac Mirwis said. "But it's tradition, it's principle, and we stick true to our principles and that's what makes an identity ... God doesn't take a week off from us, so we can't take a week off from God."

Obvioulsy they were not going to violate Shabbos by participating in this game. Yes, they are disappointed. That is only natural. But it is good to see teenagers that have a maturity about this that is beyond their years. This enhances what is already a Kiddush HaShem.

I am not one to cry anti Semitism at the drop of a hat. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless the obvious question must be asked: Was there any anti-Semitism in the decision of TAPPS?

Their officials say that they have gotten tons of e-mail accusing them of that. And they of course deny it. I’m sure they have actually talked themselves into believing it. But the fact happens to be that all of their excuses sound like just that: excuses. The kind of excuses made by anti-Semites who will always defend themselves against such accusations by saying, “I’m not an anti Semite… Some of my best friends are Jewish!”

This is the kind of soft bigotry that still exists in pockets of American culture. I realize that a lot of what they said in defense of these accusations is true. The team did sign up knowing up front that schedules will not be changed for any reason. That with a busy schedule involving many teams of many different sports and use of multiple stadiums - it would be difficult to change a date and/or place of a game. It is also true that Beren Academy chose to join TAPPS anyway.

As it turned out there were no scheduling conflicts during the regular season. But now that they are in the playoffs there is. Beren coach Chris Cole hoped that TAPPS would make an exception. They have thus far refused and seem to remain firm in that decision.

I have to question the legitimacy of their claim that there isn’t any anti Semitism here. I think there may just be. It may be unwitting. But it’s there. Had they said that they will try to accommodate them but that the logistics made it unlikely, I would accept it. But they didn’t even try. How difficult would it have been to have that playoff game played on the same day - only before Shkiya (sunset - when Shabbos actually begins)?

Perhaps it couldn’t have been done -I don’t know. Perhaps there is no way they could have changed it. But the flat rejection and intransigence in denying accomodation of a religious request by an organization that in part caters to religious schools – makes their claims of innocence suspect. Their vigorous denials and explanations not withstanding.

Arroagnce about the sanctity of a playing schedule would be bad enough if it were about professional sports teams. Or perhaps even college teams. But high school hoops in a private and parochial league?!

Doesn’t it matter to them that this team worked hard to make it into the playoffs. Doesn’t it matter how disappointed the players; their couches, school, parents and friends feel?

But it’s only the Jews so who really cares! They knew the rules. Tough luck!

That said, I do not think they did anything illegal. Nor can anyone claim direct discrimination since they were up front about their position from the very beginning. But their unwillingness to budge and even try to make an exception, casts doubt about protestations of innocence. They are in effect saying that their playing schedule is more sacrosanct that the religious tenets of one of its member schools. Is there any thinking person of any religion that would agree with that?!

And what about the team Beren was to play against? That team will now play the team Beren defeated to advance in the playoffs. Can they really be happy with the substitution? Will they be happy playing against the team that lost to the team they were supposed to play - but because of a forced forfeit won’t be able to?

This decision is not only bad for Beren, it is bad for the league. Any victory by any team will have to have an asterisk next to it. For who knows if Beren could not have gone all the way – given the chance.

So even if there was no anti Semitism at all, their decision was a poor one. It deprives every team and every player in the league the opportunity to claim that they were the best. The championship team will never be certain of it because one of their opponents were denied the opportunity play against them.

In my view if the decision is not reversed and Beren isn’t given the opportunity to play, TAPPS might as well just end the season right now!