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Sports vs. Values: What are We Teaching Our Children?

Sports vs. Values: What are We Teaching Our Children?

V’she-nahn tam l’vah-neh-cha, “You shall teach them diligently to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:7)

We pray these words as part of the Sh’ma, the central affirmation of the Jewish people’s faith. These words are part of the first prayer I learned to read in Hebrew as a child, and they hang beautifully needlepointed in Hebrew just inside the entrance to our home.

In everything we do, our children learn from us.

In everything we do and with all of our decisions, actions, and priorities, we need to ask ourselves: “What are we teaching our children?”

Last month in Albuquerque, NM, thousands of adoring fans turned out for a hometown parade honoring mixed martial artist Holly Holm.

What earned Ms. Holm such adulation?

In a championship fight, she delivered a devastating knockout kick to the head of previously undefeated champion Ronda Rousey. If the kick were not enough, Holm – as the rules allow – jumped on her prone opponent and landed a haymaker flush to her face before the referee pulled her off. 

More than 56,000 fans packed the stadium in Melbourne, Australia, where this fight occurred; another million watched the fight on TV. Most watched because they expected Rousey to employ her vaunted weapon, the armbar, which allows her to break her opponent’s arm or pull it from its socket unless the opponent concedes the match. Holm earned her parade because she avoided the armbar until she could deliver the knockout kick.

I assume that many, if not most, of the spectators who watched the bout or attended the parade have children and perhaps grandchildren who intuit the values their loved ones glorify – and these children are getting the message, loud and clear, that respect and adulation are won though violence and hurting others.

What do we teach our children when we seek entertainment in the spectacle of two human beings each trying to maim the other or render her senseless?

And yet, should we be surprised? After all, we live in a country where mass murder occurs on a regular basis.

Should we be surprised when sporting events, video games, TV shows, and movies desensitize our children to the horrific effects of violence?

Should we be surprised when we glorify women and men because they have honed the skills that enable them to harm another person better than anyone else?

Should we be surprised when, each week, millions cheer for football, a sport proven to shorten the lives and damage the brains of many who participate in it?

Should we be surprised when perpetrators of domestic violence are allowed back on the field to once again become heroes and role models for our children?

Should we be surprised that, when individuals decide to act out the violence they see all around them, guns are available to almost anyone with the cash to buy them?

I believe that one day, society will look back on the violence and mayhem that slurp up our entertainment dollars the same way we look back upon the gladiators of ancient Rome today.

To her credit, Holly Holm encouraged the cheering throng in Albuquerque to donate to a local children’s home that helps kids who have had a rough start in life – a very nice gesture. But does it change the fact that so many kids get rough starts in life precisely because of a culture that glorifies a sport whose raison d’etre is to see another human being injured, maimed, or possibly even killed?

What are we teaching our children?

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is the author of What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves is Biblical Narratives, a former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT. His book has been published in German; a Russian translation is forthcoming. It also is available as an audio book. A second book, ToraHighlights, will be published this fall.

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs
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