By now, everybody from Bill Nye the Science Guy to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has given an opinion on Deflategate. In case you’ve been hibernating the last two weeks, Deflategate is the controversy over whether the New England Patriots let air out of their footballs to gain a competitive advantage in their AFC Championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
It was only a matter of time until the rabbis weighed in.
JTA reported that on Monday, Rabbi Yossi Grossman, dean of the Jewish Ethics Institute, discussed deflated pigskins in his talk about ethics in sports at a Houston business conference. Grossman cited the Exodus, Talmud, rabbinic authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and the Code of Jewish Law.*
“The question is,” asked Grossman (who made it clear he was not presuming the Patriots were guilty), “who was actually committing fraud here? Was it the quarterback, the coach, the owner?” Grossman concluded that if New England created an unfair advantage to make it to the Super Bowl and beats Seattle this Sunday, its punishment may be a championship tainted in the eyes of many sports fans.
Rabbi David Hoffman, who teaches a course on business ethics at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary of America, said, “Rules governing truth telling, honesty and misrepresenting ourselves are as applicable in sports as they are in business or other aspects of human relationships.”
Misrepresenting comes into play here if the Patriots are lying about the alleged transgression.
Like Grossman, Hoffman said he is not suggesting that the Patriots are guilty of either cheating or a cover-up. But he makes it plain that the rule in Judaism is to tell the truth.
“Lying and misrepresenting are bad anywhere, and we know it,” Hoffman said. “We want one area of our life to be pure, and we hope that’s sports.”
The Hebrew Scriptures state, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). It’s hard to recover from a bad reputation. One reason many have been quick to suspect the Patriots of wrongdoing in Deflategate is because the team and their coach, Bill Belichick, were previously disciplined by the NFL for illegally videotaping the New York Jets’ sideline signals during a game in 2007.
How can we keep our reputation intact? The Bible gives us a prescription: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word” (Psalm 119:9)
Young or old, man or woman, reading and obeying God’s Word is the key to a good conscience and a reputable life in sports, business or home life. Yet all of us fumble, falling short of His commandments (that’s called sin). In ancient times, God required blood sacrifices in the Temple to atone for sin. Now, with no Temple and no sacrifices, how do we keep a clean conscience? The author of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament gives us the answer:
“For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:13–14)
The Messiah, Yeshua, died in our place and rose from the dead to cleanse us from sin, clear our conscience and give us a life of dignity and purpose. Our part is to be honest with God, neither inflating nor deflating ourselves in His eyes, and to receive the free gift of his Son.
I know I’ve moved far afield from the world of football, but as you watch the Super Bowl, consider this perspective on one’s reputation: Look for your worth from the One who gave us life and who “…delights in truth in the inward being…” (Psalm 51:6).
Hillel Kuttler, “What Jewish ethics tell us about Deflategate,” http://www.jta.org/2015/01/27/arts-entertainment/what-jewish-ethics-tell-us-about-deflategate