I had never heard the name “Damar Hamlin” until on Monday night I noticed a lot of my Facebook friends posting that they were praying for him and so on. I went to Google News, typed in his name, and learned that he was a Pittsburgh Steelers football player who collapsed on the field, had to receive both CPR and defibrillation, and had been transported to a hospital in Cincinnati. The game was suspended and as of this morning, Hamlin remains in a medically-induced coma and on a ventilator.
I have to confess that I am not remotely a football fan and have not watched a game other than a Super Bowl in several decades. On occasion I have watched a Super Bowl as a social occasion but have frankly been more interested in the chicken wings and subs than the game itself.
I played one season of “Pop Warner” youth football in elementary school and decided it was not for me. I spent my high school years constantly declining requests from the football coach that I go out for the team so that I could be an offensive lineman. But the final nail in the coffin of any interest in football was when I was the Hillel director at the University of Virginia in the early 1990s. At the time U.Va. had one of the top ranked teams in the country. I lived within walking distance of Scott Stadium where the team’s home games were played and I was given a ticket to one of the games which was in one of the first rows of the stadium. To this day I recall the noises of the offensive and defensive linemen hitting each other. Football is an incredibly violent sport. While injuries occur in basketball, baseball, and soccer as well, football rewards violent contact whereas the other sports penalize it. We have seen so many retired football players suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which on occasion has lead to violent crimes as well as suicides. While there may be ways to make the game somewhat safer, sportswriters and fans complain that the proposed changes would make the game less exciting and change its fundamental nature.
I’m reminded of the Bob Dylan song “Who Killed Davey Moore?” from 1963 which recounted the death of a boxer in the ring. Everybody involved explains that what happened, while tragic, was not their fault. If you’re interested, a video of Dylan performing the song at the Newport Folk Festival can be found here.
I join in the prayers for Damar Hamlin’s recovery but wonder if we need to do some reconsideration of football and its place in our society.
For the next several Shabbat mornings we will be having kiddush after services. They will not necessarily be elaborate but they will be an opportunity for us to spend some more time together informally rather than rushing home as soon as services end. Especially on days when we do have Kiddush, it’s important that you sign up to attend via our registration form -- it helps us know how much food to have without being wasteful.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian