Sports & religion collide again

sports and religionWhen I was a kid, my best friend broke his arm sliding into second base in a Babe Ruth baseball game on a Sunday afternoon. We teased him that his injury was a result of playing baseball on a Sunday. I reflected on this childhood experience as I read this story in Wednesday's Palm Beach Post on how a high school student's refusal to participate in a three-point competition because it would interfere with the Jewish Sabbath tradition may have saved her life:

By Saturday afternoon, Orzechowitz, who was staying in Tampa, was in so much pain that she had to be taken to a Tampa-area hospital, an ironic twist for several reasons.

In Orthodox Judaism, secular life ends at sundown Friday and doesn't resume until nearly an hour after sundown Saturday. For this 25-hour period, members attend synagogue and enjoy a day of rest but do little else. That is why Orzechowitz could not participate in the three-point finals, which Karolina Bazua of Boca Raton High School eventually won.

The exception to the observance is if someone is in medical danger. Orzechowitz had to end the Sabbath prematurely with a trip to the hospital, where she had an emergency appendectomy Sunday morning.

Had she participated in the three-point contest, doctors told her, the appendix might have ruptured while she was on the court.

The Post is all over this story (see here and here), which is great because these types of incidents seem to be happening more often. The stories are also spanning multiple religions (see Muslim athletes and their clothing) and sometimes those objecting are not that sympathetic.

One aspect of the Post story I particularly liked is how it brought in those who object to the athletes playing sports at all, which shows that this story is more complicated than it first appeared:

Orzechowitz was even attacked by some ultra-Orthodox Jews, who believe it's inappropriate for a girl to play basketball in front of men. Her mother called those claims "ridiculous.'' Yeshiva is a modern Orthodox school, and the girls wear shorts or skirts that go below the knees, as well as cover their arms above the elbows when playing basketball.

"Our message to students is to participate and to do so in a way which is faithful to our 7,500-year-old heritage,'' Tirschwell said.

Perhaps this aspect explains why these types of stories are popping up more often. Religiously observant families have discovered the positive benefits of competitive sports and are attempting to conform their cultural practices to the requirements of the organized sports. But ultimately, conflicts arise involving the athlete's uniform or a tournament schedule, and we have ourselves a news story.

Sports reporters throughout American communities should get used to stories like these because I have a feeling that they won't be going away.

Photo of the Virginia Gazette "Sports and Religion" section taken by the author in Williamsburg, Va., in May 2007.

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