I was reared in Brooklyn on a heavy diet of spectator and participatory sports. For decades I was the ultimate fan[atic] rooting for baseball’s New York Yankees and Mets, football’s New York Giants and Jets, ice hockey’s Rangers, and basketball’s Knicks. I grew up with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris battling for the 1961 home run crown, Y.A. Tittle, and Joe Morrison — all announced by the indomitable Marty Glickman, who also was cruelly victimized by Hitler’s 1936 Munich Olympics and the racist anti-Semitism of Avery Brundage — Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Matt Snell, Emerson Boozer; Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert (pronounced: ghil-BEAR); Walt Frazier and Dick Barnett announced by Marv Albert.
My Zaydie (grandfather) loved the Brooklyn Dodgers. When they abandoned Brooklyn for California, he was crushed — a Man Without a Ballclub. He could not shift allegiances to the Yankees because Dodger fans hated the Yankees, who beat them in every World Series where they contended except 1955. He was left a Baseball Orphan, passionate about the game but with no team, until the Mets emerged in the 1962 expansion. Then he could celebrate again — although the Mets gave their fans little to celebrate their first seven years before Tom Terrific. Zaydie would bring me to Mets’ Sunday doubleheaders. After the Mets ritually would lose the first game, Zaydie would amble quietly to a corner in the bleachers — we could not afford lower down — and would “daven mincha” (recite the Afternoon prayer observant Jews recite daily). Occasionally, someone Jewish sitting near us, realizing Zaydie was davening, would whisper to me, “If he’s praying for the Mets, tell him it is pointless. Even G-d can’t help them.”
Three years ago I finally stopped watching football. True to my word, I have not watched a single game since. At first, it was like giving up ice cream.
How to count the number of hours I invested in my sports fandom? I knew all the history, the statistics. If I were not Sabbath-observant, I would have pursued a Marty Glickman or Marv Albert career, assuming I would not have succeeded first in becoming a baseball player. I was a very good hitter and played catcher, a demanding knee-killing position, very well. I held onto foul tips and threw out attempted base stealers. But my mother wanted me to be a doctor. My G-d gave a Torah that forbids working on Shabbat, so I ended up becoming a rabbi, and thereafter an attorney, a law professor, and an opinion writer. But ever the rebel: not a doctor.
The thing is, as I grew older, I grew wiser and more sensitive to time’s value. An illness here, a chronic lower-back ache there, brought home that I am on a clock. There is so much more Torah I want to learn: another round of Daf Yomi (studying a folio of Talmud daily on an international cycle that runs seven-plus years), Rambam’s (Maimonides’s) Mishneh Torah codes, the Shulchan Arukh (Code of Jewish law) and more rabbinic responsa deriving from it, more books on Jewish and on American history. Likewise, having published two books, I now am starting on five more. That takes time, as do my rabbinic work for shul, my law teaching, and my writing. Time means more to me than ever before because, as with all commodities, it becomes more valuable and precious as there is less of it available: the law of supply and demand.
Thus, I write today of my debt to Colin Kaepernick.
I know someone who loved ice cream and never could stop eating full pints at a time. Only at the last scoop, with the container empty, would he feel satisfied. And then he started experiencing the results of lactase deficiency. As his lactose intolerance became increasingly painful over his life, he found himself no longer drawn to ice cream but repulsed by it. When an allergy or other bad experience (mouse in the jar) sets in, others likewise experience withdrawing from a food they once loved uncontrollably. Now it repels.
Boxing was the first sport I abandoned watching. After two Cassius Clay bouts, I perceived that G-d created the human spirit to be in His image, that of holiness. There seemed something indefensible in my values system, even as a boy, in finding entertainment in two men beating each other’s faces and torsos into pulps.
Next I was repulsed by several NBA basketball players. Dennis Rodman with the hair and attitude. Few people are as despicable as LeBron James. Others with tattoos all over their bodies. I come from a culture that forbids tattoos. I don’t judge others who live and brand themselves differently, but I just found the culture increasingly repulsive. So I stopped following basketball. Meanwhile, as more demands for my writing, speaking, and teaching started coming in from diverse quarters, I found I had to give up following ice hockey — no time.
But the real game changer was Colin Kaepernick. I am an intense American patriot. I love this country and society. The 1619 Project is a lie, and I support parents who fightto keep that garbage out of the schools. I would feel this way even if I were not Jewish, but my educated Judaism makes me even more an American patriot. Yes, there are some severe stains in our American history — broken treaties with Indians, slavery, Chinese exclusion, anti-Catholic agitation and murderous riots, Dred Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson, the Leo Frank lynching and the 1928 Massena blood libel and FDR’s role during the Holocaust, the Korematsu SCOTUS opinion, and Roe v. Wade. But there never has been a kinder, more generous nation than America, and we always have striven to do even better the next day. That is why we uniquely remain the land of opportunity into which people desperately flock from all over the world — even those not facing persecution but simply seeking advantage.
When Kaepernick refused to stand respectfully during the national anthem, I was disgusted by his ingratitude towards a country that has given him so much for so little. When he began kneeling, I was livid. But when his filth began spreading within the NFL, I wrote on these very pages that, if the spread continues, I am done with NFL football. For me, who loved football as others love ice cream, the NFL would become to me as ice cream does to someone lactose intolerant. It not only would lose its allure but would become repulsive.
Three years ago I finally stopped watching football. True to my word, I have not watched a single game since. At first, it was like giving up ice cream — a bit challenging not to waste six hours every Sunday and another six hours on Monday and Thursday watching the NFL. But in time, as I have found since I gave up Ben & Jerry’s, I do not miss it. Not a whit.
Because I comment on culture, I remain abreast that Tom Brady has just retired and that Aaron Rodgers will return to play another year. I will check on the Super Bowl final score and may watch a brief online recap of highlights to be knowledgeable. I may visit YouTube to check out the commercials. But I have absolutely no interest in the Super Bowl itself, nor regarding the Rams or Bengals.
Instead of football, I chose to devote those hours to paying some bills and studying some Torah. I teach Judaism and Torah classes three times weekly on Zoom — also accessible upon request (at no cost!) to my readers at The American Spectator — and football no longer competes. Looking back, I rue the hours I once devoted to watching because I have come to see how much more enriching those newly found twelve weekly hours are. Imagine: twelve hours weekly for 14 (now 17) weeks of a regular season, plus post-season games. That comes to some 200 hours a year. Imagine forty years of that. That comes to 8,000 hours. We are talking about 5,000-10,000 hours in a lifetime — waking mid-day and early-evening productive time.
Let’s say you enjoy 3-4 hours daily of your own time. That is, besides 6-8 hours of sleep, 1-3 hours commuting, 8-10 hours at work, some time for personal grooming, some for eating, some for prayer, some for parenting. Say that leaves you 3-4 hours daily to do your own thing. Just giving up football spectating — even better: never starting — would give you an extra 2-3,000 days of life. That’s like 5-8 more years of life. Imagine such a bonus … or having someone or a terrible disease deprive you of that: Five years, eight years of life.
I owe Colin Kaepernick.
Read Dov Fischer every Monday and Thursday in The American Spectator and follow him on Twitter at@DovFischerRabbi.