Image: Oakland Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell was the first Major League Baseball player to #TakeAKnee during the national anthem during their game Saturday. (Image Source: YouTube screenshot)

I am not a football fan. The only pro sport I follow with interest is baseball.

Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback, now unemployed, began to kneel during the National Anthem last year as a way of protesting systemic racism in our society. He found a respectful, high profile way to speak his mind, as is his right. People I know who care about football say that speaking his mind has something to do with his state of employment. Whatever the truth, it was no longer a news story.

This past week, President Trump said some vulgar things about several sports stars including Mr. Kaepernick. He said them at a rally in Alabama, then tweeted more trash-talk. First it became a Twitter brawl, then it turned into a big news story.

Here’s the thing: Mr. Kaepernick’s protest was last year’s news until the President saw fit to breathe new life into it by bringing it up.  Now the NFL is involved, all the sports fans are involved, and even one baseball player (Bruce Maxwell from my beloved Oakland Athletics) is involved.

But let’s focus on the real news item here: none of this was news until this weekend, when the President went out of his way to make it news.

Others have pointed out that the President should be busy with more important things: the human crisis in Puerto Rico, where American citizens are dying from lack of assistance, the looming nuclear threat in North Korea, and the upcoming vote on an unpopular healthcare bill. All these things are his job, the job the American people hired him to do.

Mr. Trump wants us outraged and polarized so that we won’t pay attention to other things – things like Puerto Rico, the nuclear war looming with North Korea, and the healthcare bill that could pass next week and kill citizens just as surely as the nuclear war would. He has learned that he can push the racism button and get a reaction every time. His supporters love it, and the lefties hate it. Either way, it works.

Don’t allow yourself to be derailed. Have your opinion about the NFL mess, sure. But call your Senators to express your feelings about the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill. That bill is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes, and 14 other medical associations. Even if your Senator is a Democrat, call. If your Senator is a Republican, call and call and call – unless you don’t care about your future access to healthcare and that of your family.

THEN – take action against racism, which is what this #TakeAKnee protest is really about. Let’s lower our defenses and educate ourselves. Knowing that Rabbi Heschel marched in the 60’s is NOT being sufficiently educated about racism. Thinking that we have no dog in that fight is a sure sign that there’s more to learn; we all have a stake in systemic racism. Where to look? I suggest reading anything by TaNahisi Coates to begin. Even if you finish reading and still disagree with me that there is systemic racism in America, you will have an educated opinion. Then come back and argue – I welcome a good machlochet l’shem hashamayim, an argument for the sake of heaven.

For those who are saying to themselves, Rabbi, quit the politics: this is not about politics. The health care bill and racism are moral issues. I have a duty as a rabbi to address them, for they are quite literally at the heart of Torah. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Leviticus 19, the chapter that is in the center of every Torah scroll.

I look forward to the day when I can go back to worrying about my baseball team.

May 5778 be a year of peace and health for the citizens of our country and for all around the world. Until then, let us use our phones.

 

 

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