Embarrassing Moment; Priceless Lesson

It was the most embarrassing moment of my life, but the mimeographed letter made clear what I had to do:

Since you have missed the Honor Roll for the second time this year, you are no longer a member of the National Honor Society. Please bring your pin and membership certificate to Miss De Luke in room 202 at your earliest convenience.

My fall from academic grace was swift and hurtful. I had hit my stride as a student at the beginning of my junior year. I remember vividly how I beamed when at the end of the first marking period, our guidance counselor, Miss Jane Perry, came into our English class to announce that I stood first in the class for that six weeks.

At that time Miss DeLuke called me to her classroom and asked me to consider becoming Honor Society President the next year.

Six months later I was walking to her classroom to return my pin. I was mortified.

For some weeks previous I had felt unusually tired. A medical exam revealed that my Protein Bound Iodine (PBI) count was quite low. “This,” my doctor exclaimed, “could account for your diminished academic performance.” He then wrote a letter to the school explaining the condition in some detail.

Clutching the letter, I made a beeline for Miss Perry’s office. This will get me back in the honor society, I thought to myself. “After all, I have the gold standard Gordian Knot cutter for any school-related problem, a bona fide doctor’s excuse!”

“That’s too bad,” Miss Perry said, after reading the letter. “I’m glad you are being treated.”

“So, I asked, “Can I get back into the Honor Society if I get my grades back up?

Miss Perry’s unequivocal, “No,” slapped me across the face.

“I am sorry it happened,” she continued, “but the rules are the rules. You will not get back in the Honor Society.”

As I left her office the oft-repeated words of my hockey coach, Gil Adams, reverberated in my head: “When you play a game, no one cares that you had a cold, a sprained ankle or a stiff neck. All they will ask is, ‘who won, and what was the score.’”

At graduation, those in the Honor Society wore a gold tassel and a gold sash. I think I was the only one listed in the program as a High Honors (top five per cent) graduate without those adornments, and I felt humiliated.  More than five per cent of the class walked that day with National Honor Society recognition.

Fifty plus years later, of course, it matters little. But the lesson the experience taught is with me every day:

Just do the best that you can, and don’t make excuses! Nobody cares about them anyway.








Prayer After Super Bowl LI

Eternal One,

Once again much of the world you created rejoiced in the face of evil. Thousands spent billions to watch and millions more tuned in to the mayhem of Super Bowl LI.

They rave about how exciting the game was!

  • It mattered not that many on the field were able to play only with the help of Toradol or other dangerous drugs to mask their pain.
  • It mattered not that so many past players have committed suicide, died young, or live with life-ruining dementia.

We watched anyway!

Some claim: “They knew the risks, and they chose to play.

  • Would they have known the risks if the first time they walked on a field, their parents and they had to sign a declaration that told the truth:

“Playing this game is liable to shorten your life or condemn you to live each day with pain?”

  • Would they have accepted the risk if we had not glamorized football and conditioned players, from when they were in the cradle, to worship at football’s altar.

When we study ancient history, we read of gladiatorial festivals and ask: “How could civilized society allow such carnage in the name of entertainment?”

When, O God, will we ask the same question about American football?

How long, O God?

  • How long will we celebrate and delight in such havoc to enrich owners, sponsors, TV networks and gamblers?
  • How long will we deny the price our entertainment exacts?

Many moral or religious leaders have turned a blind eye!

They watch, wear game jerseys and make bets on the outcome with others consecrated to work for a more just, caring and compassionate society.

Where, Eternal One, is the compassion for these former NFL players who have committed suicide?

They are not just statistics. They were real people:

Where also, O God, is our concern for the families of dead players found on post mortem to have Chronic Traumatic Brain Damage?

They are not just statistics! They are real people:

And where, O God, we must ask, is our compassion for those who still walk this earth doomed to lives of pain and suffering from the traumatic brain damage their doctors have diagnosed?

They are not just statistics! They are real people:

Some of these names, O God, were well known to even the casual football observer. Only diehard fans knew the names of others.

No matter! We must ask:

  • Did they die or do they suffer in vain?
  • Can we not learn the lesson of their misfortune?
  • As players grow bigger, stronger and faster, will not future casualty lists not multiply much more rapidly?

Open our eyes, Eternal One! Remove our blindness! Help us to see at last that the glory, the fame and the riches football brings to the few are just not worth the terrible price they exact from our pockets but, more importantly, from our souls!



Count Me Out of the Concussion Bowl

On Sunday, February 5, America will observe for the fifty-first time what has evolved into our most observed national holiday: Super Bowl Sunday. I call it “The Concussion Bowl.”

Count Me Out!

It is clear now, beyond any shadow of a doubt that the collisions that are integral to tackle football on any level inflict lasting long-term injuries on participants. Many suffer serious brain injuries that lead to depression, dementia, inordinate instances of suicide and early death.

One of the greatest college football—and until his debilitating injury, one of the great pro—football players, Bo Jackson, has said he will forbid his son from playing football. As his old ad correctly put it, “Bo knows football.”

What about the rest of us?

In the face of such evidence each individual faces a stark and daunting choice: You can be part of the ongoing pattern of injury and early death that football inflicts by watching, supporting your team and buying their merchandise, or you can be part of the solution by turning it off and turning away.

Football today is as much a part of our national culture as, say, cigarettes were in the 50’s.

In those days, great athletes, doctors and dentists publicly appeared in ads peddling cigarettes to impressionable and easily influenced young people. Nobody thought much about it.

Now we know better!

Similarly, football has become a national religion. The biggest campus heroes—whether the campus is high school or college—are often the football stars. So many impressionable kids want to be like them.

That was OK before we learned conclusively the damage football causes—long term and permanent damage—to so many who participate.

Now we know better!

Oh, I know, some will claim that players know the risks, but they make the adult choice to participate. I admit there is some truth to that.

But it is also true that such an attitude sends an awful message about our values as a human society. When we condone and even laud those who risk permanent bodily injury and early death only for the sake of our amusement, entertainment or gambling enrichment, we diminish ourselves immeasurably.

As a rabbi I would add, that we diminish the Divine Image in which God created us.

I don’t so much blame the players for developing and using their talents in this way. For kids the lure—however long the odds—of a free college education and, for the truly elite, millions of dollars, is irresistible. Moreover, their elders have conditioned them—from one generation to another–to yearn and strive for the glory involved.

No I don’t blame the players, but I do blame the enablers–the owners, managers and most of all the fans–who perpetuate this lamentable culture.

I only pray that one day football will go the way of the once glamorized and openly advertised cigarette: banned in all public places!