By: Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg
I am a sports junkie. I love everything about sports, and it has been one of my greatest passions for as long as I can remember. Currently I am almost entirely limited to the role of fan, save an occasional basketball game or round of golf, but it is largely because of my early years as a participant that to this day I continue to love the sporting world. I learned some incredible lessons during my days of playing team sports. You might say that all I needed to learn, I learned while playing the games that I love.
Losing and winning are a part of life, and the goal is not to avoid them but rather learn how to accept both with grace and treat them with equal billing in one’s life. From sports I learned the value of working together as a team, and that every team is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore, it is not one’s role to marginalize and disgrace the less skilled but rather to support and lift them up. I also learned from sports the value of accepting those who may be different. I grew up attending Jewish schools and it was through sports that I experienced diversity and it was through sports that I learned that not everyone in the world is Jewish.
For me, the field, court, diamond, rink, pitch (European soccer field), playground, and even the curling sheet have always and will always be a place of great equality. If you can play, nothing else matters. While I understand that this is not always absolute, the spirit of this idea is alive and well from Citizens Bank Park to our new Beth El gaga court. And so it has been with great lament over the past few years that I watched as every arena in America has accepted the presence of gay and lesbian Americans — except the sporting world. Many of us who are in some way connected to sports either as a fan or as a player have been waiting for a current athlete to “come out” so the final glass ceiling might be broken.
Jason Collins — thank you, thank you, thank you! On Monday the entire American sports world changed for the better. With Collins’ brave announcement, and with the subsequent almost unanimous support in the athletic community, we have finally as a society been forced to see that gay and lesbian Americans are involved in every facet of our culture and workforce, and that they are just not that different. The most striking difference between Collins and the average American is that he stands seven feet tall and weighs over 250 pounds of mostly muscle. Remember it is far more unique in our society to be seven feet tall than it is to be gay.
I sat down Monday evening with my 8-year-old son to discuss Collins and the idea that a current professional athlete in one of the four major American sports had admitted to the world that he is gay. To be honest, he could not even understand why it was an issue. He asked me whether Collins is a good basketball player and I said yes. He responded maybe we should get him to play for the Sixers next year. He then paused a minute to think, and I assumed that he was still contemplating what I had just told him.
“Daddy” he said, “Can I still play in the NBA?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that as the son of a rabbi, he would be far more unique as a Jewish professional basketball player than Collins is as a homosexual one. The dream lives on!
Rabbi Joshua Z. Gruenberg is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in Yardley.