Editor’s note: The NBA season gets underway tonight with three games. In preparation for the event, Rabbi Joshua Hess, who blogs at FANaticrabbi.com, contributed the following column.
A Religious Perspective on the New NBA Technical Foul Rule
The NBA believes that, in recent years, its players have been harming their brand of basketball with excessive complaining about calls made by the referees. In order to minimize the arguing and to make the game flow a bit smoother, the league has directed the referees to assess technical fouls to a player for virtually any questioning of or arguing with the officials, or for any demonstration of displeasure with a call. In addition, the monetary fines for technical fouls have increased to $2,000 per infraction.
During the preseason, the NBA began implementing this new rule to help the players adjust their style of play for the regular season. As one would expect, the number of technical fouls assessed in the preseason was significantly higher than in previous years. The league claims that this rule is in the best interest of the fans, and many of the coaches have been supportive of the rule.
The players, for the most part, have not been happy with the new rule, and on this issue, I believe that the players are correct. As a fan, I find it extremely entertaining to watch grown men plead their case to the officials, even if it’s usually to no avail. I enjoy seeing that highly paid athletes remain emotionally invested in the game. Moreover, man is not created to be a robot; we are not expected to blindly accept everything that we are told without questioning its truth and accuracy. In fact, the Torah describes how many of our greatest leaders pleaded with the highest authority, God, and they were not punished for their actions.
Abraham pleaded with God to save the city of Sodom from destruction; Isaac and Rebecca pleaded with God to grant them a child; and Moses pleaded with God to allow him to enter into the land of Israel. If our forefathers could question God’s decisions, surely athletes should be able to question human referees who are not infallible.
By requiring the players to refrain from displaying their emotions and passion for the game; by forcing players to accept decisions without explanation, the league is attempting to turn human beings into robots, and that’s neither fair, nor good for the game.
The truth is that this move by the NBA is similar to a problem that is prevalent in many religious communities. Prevailing wisdom in many religious communities is that one should not question the pronouncements of religious authorities. Disciples are taught not to question their Rabbi when he publicly asks for a plague to strike the Arabs. Congregants aren’t allowed to ask why the Catholic church hasn’t responded quickly enough to assist the sexual abuse victims, and lay leaders are not given an appropriate forum to question the legitimacy of Islamic fanaticism. While this hierarchical structure may create a successful and harmonious environment for members of those communities, it is not a healthy one. People should be able to express themselves and their feelings without fear of repercussions. Unfortunately, people are afraid that if they question a leader’s decision or speak out against some injustice, they will be ostracized from their communities.
Religious leaders who demand unquestioned obedience are as misguided as the NBA commissioner. There is nothing wrong with questioning authority in a respectful manner.
All of our greatest religious leaders questioned decisions and pleaded with God to have them reversed, and we should feel comfortable doing the same. If Abraham and Moses could question God, certainly Kevin Garnett or Lamar Odom should be able to question a referee’s call.