A couple of years ago I reviewed a few books about the concept of the Sabbath as it's understood by various groups. The piece generated a bit of feedback, most from parents and grandparents who were livid about the increasing practice of having competitive games on Sunday mornings. So I was delighted to see this wonderfully respectful Associated Press piece about the sacrifices one young athlete has made in that regard:
When 7-year-old Amalya Knapp took the beam at the New Jersey1 state gymnastics finals last month, her excellent performance symbolized a far more complicated balancing act.
Although she would have ranked fifth in her age group, eligible for a medal, her individual scores were discounted. She was unable to compete on a Saturday because of her Orthodox Jewish family's observance of the Sabbath.
"I was upset," Amalya said, "but my mother told me there are decisions you have to make."
USA Gymnastics made an effort to accommodate her and let her compete the next day, Sunday, Feb. 13, and permitted her scores to factor into her team's overall rankings.
But the national governing body held that because she hadn't competed at the same time as girls of her skill level and age group, her scores: 9.7 on vault, 9.575 floor, 9.5 beam and 8.75 bars would not count toward individual medals or rankings.
The reporter did a good job of getting the perspective of the young athlete as well as her parents and the sports organizations involved. The article mentions the other recent test of faith in the sports world -- the standout high school wrestler whose religious views caused him to relinquish championship hopes.
We even learn how Amalya's parents told her the story of Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Famer who stood firm and refused to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series (because he was observing Yom Kippur).
The story includes some needed perspective from Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner about the reality facing athletes who observe the Sabbath:
"In a nutshell, you can participate in sports, you can enjoy it, you can excel, but the way the world runs, you're not going to be in any competitions," he said. "You can't be in any sport that has competitions on the Sabbath, and not just games, but also workouts and practices on the Sabbath or holidays; that means you're not eligible for a football scholarship," Lerner said, adding with a laugh: "Well, go learn the oboe."
Lerner said he encourages young observant Jews to engage in sports for the training and self-discipline it teaches, but knowing that they may not reach competition levels.
The story is full of information about how these conflicts are handled when it comes to professional sports organizations and fan relations. All in all, a nicely balanced, informative, interesting and respectful story about the role religion plays in many young athletes' lives.