Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Part III. Will the NBA Reserve Religion for Private Practice?

            In the wake of Donald Sterling's racist comments, Sam Amick of USA Today Sports, wrote the article “For NBA teams, religion can be unifying or divisive.”[1] He contrasted practices of three coaches: privately religious Doc Rivers versus ordained minister Mark Jackson, who referred to Zen master Phil Jackson. In the article, success of the team is juxtaposed with appreciation of each person. I think Amick’s reporting makes a strong case for keeping religion private, and America could learn from the NBA cosmos. As I present my opinion, I also want to emphasize semantics -- word options that could enhance understanding of opinion and appreciation of people.
            Rivers, reared Baptist, does not normally attend church and keeps daily religious practices private. Fifteen years ago, he observed a Muslim player’s usual discomfort with the customary pre-game prayer. Rivers told the team,
We're no longer praying. I want to take a minute. Everybody close their eyes. We all can have different religions, we have different Gods, we can just take a minute to compose. If you guys want to pray individually, you can do it. If you want to meditate, do whatever you want.
The Muslim player thanked Rivers for respect for his religion. Amick counts it among “widespread push for increased tolerance on all fronts.” Rivers put his opinions in perspective:
If it's 75% (who believe one way), that's to me 25% that (don't). To me, if it's 95%, the 5% deserve the same treatment as everybody else. And I just think that's what we need to do. If it was church, then that's different. This is not church. This is our jobs. So our jobs come first, respect comes second, and I think that's the way it should be.
Rivers added to the no team-prayer policy by not participating when “both teams would meet briefly on the court for a prayer. [But he] does lead a moment of silence before games.” Rivers, who follows “the philosophy of Ununtu that was inspired by the late Nelson Mandela,” said,
There's a spiritual connection with every team, and that can be religious or that can be Ubuntu or something like that. (But) the religious part is individual. I don't think there's any God cheering for one team over another. I know that (emphasis mine). But each individual who is spiritual needs that. It's what makes him. [My religious practice is] very private, and it's individual, and I've made it a choice to keep it that way.
One player spoke of Rivers’ leadership: “[R]eligion is . . . a good thing. But it should be in its place. Everything has its place. Just because you can't show it publicly at times doesn't mean you're not that person.”
            With a few alternate word choices, journalists could express these issues with more comprehension, and thereby help readers understand. Above, I introduced the phrase “appreciation of each person,” whereas the article employs “tolerance.” In a society which is trying to adopt equality among human beings, there is no place for the sentiment of “tolerance” and its variations, like “tolerant.” No person owns the higher ground from which to feel “tolerant” over another human, even though it is done all the time by many people. Certainly, tolerance is better than abuse, but they are both on the wrong side of equality. Even “respect” is often insufficient, since most humans deserve appreciation. And they deserve consideration during every decade of their lives, since each one is on a different path toward psychological maturity during their chronological progress. Even the intended child deserves appreciation. The word “person” is also a key. The word choice could be “spirit” or “soul” which would be particular to the believer. The phrase “different Gods” expresses a contradiction, perhaps even arrogance against the God. Herb Freiler[2] taught me a clarifying reference to any person's quotation of “god.” The entity in a believer’s mind and/or heart might be understood by people of other beliefs as “god” but not as “God.” Additionally, whatever may be in control of what-is, if there is control, could be not “God” but “the God.” When Abraham Lincoln spoke of both sides in the Civil War, the meaning seems to have been that they prayed to the same “god”; it could not have been the God, unless the God was responsible for the war. I think journalists could help the public comprehend the God by always referring to what one person or a like-minded group believes as “god,” never omitting the quotation marks or using capital “g.” For example, Rivers’s statement is precise with “I don’t think there’s any [‘god’] cheering for one team over another.” Also, “god” expresses deference to the God, whatever that is. With these ideas, Rivers might have said, “I don’t think the God cheers for one team or another.” Now to the most important symantics: a “spiritual connection with every team” is doubtful, but a “civic connection with every team” is obvious.Rivers, in addressing the majority regarding termination of team prayer, said, "This is not church." Likewise, the public arena is not church.

            Returning to Amick’s article, Mark Jackson “sees great value in sharing his spirituality with his players.” Many in the league practice public prayer and a couple teams conduct public prayer in their basketball arena. Jackson cites Phil Jackson, who formerly
borrowed this technique from NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi — would line his players up in a row on the baseline and say, "God has ordained me to coach you young men, and I embrace the role I've been given. If you wish to accept the game I embrace and follow my coaching as a sign of your commitment, step across that line."
He must have come to realize its despotism, because he has dropped it, but, following Zen training, still recommends meditation. One player interprets the new experience as yoga-like:
Just [breathe], and be in touch with your mind and your soul. But I really don't think to force anything (is good), whether it's a religion or a point of view. Like I said, Phil's thing was never forced. I think guys bought in because of what his record showed.
“Mark Jackson's players say he doesn't force his beliefs on his players. Still, it's clearly not for everyone.” Center Andrew Bogut “doesn’t take part.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green, who is a Christian, said, ‘One thing about it is that we never shy away from making it known, because without (God) we are not who we are and we are not the team that we are and we all know that. We like to give him credit for what he's doing for this team.’
Amick may be misquoting by not capitalizing “him” in reference to Green’s “God.” Some Jackson detractors allege hypocrisy. Married, he had an affair with a stripper and then reformed. He says, “I think (religion) is a sensitive subject, where I don't think people do it justice.” Like many believers, Jackson just does not accept that there is no justice when religion is imposed on people; in essence, it shows intolerance for the other person's opinion. About the first openly gay player, Jackson said “he was ‘praying for [him] and his family,” which seems to some as insensitive to “the first openly gay senior sports executive.” Jackson defends his actions, claiming his players are “respected and treated like a man.” A man decides whether he is concerned about his soul or not.
            Returning to semantics, the article refers to and sometimes quotes “spirituality” and a player’s “soul.” Synonyms of “spiritual” include religious, holy, saintly, pious, sacred, devout, and divine. Thus, someone who claims to be “spiritual” is expressing if not claiming all those lofty qualities, contrasting the person who is “secular.’And “soul” refers to the “spiritual” part of a human, not as a man. However, “secular” is the antonym of “religious,” and therefore, has no meaning until the believer defines his “religion.” Only the believer can define “religion,” and thus, the so called “secular” human has no argument in the matter. He is not considered, let alone respected or appreciated, by the self-righteous "spiritual" man. Is self-righteous a synonym for spiritual? Were “secular” players out of Phil Jackson’s former formula for commercial success? I practice yoga and think it helps my body, mind, and person. Wishing to be a good citizen, when someone makes the traditional statement about yoga helping my soul or spirituality, I respond, “I doubt soul but know it helps my body, mind, and person.” If players cooperate because of Phil Jackson’s record, are they, intentionally or not, compromising their person? In a civic setting, which the NBA seems to be, it might be best for people to agree to be civil, keeping religion private, as the article suggests. There is no doubt that civic governance should not be church.
            I would be remiss not to address the motivation for Amick’s article: the recent trend to approve of LGBT lifestyles at the expense of religious tradition. Americans are bemused when they represent heterosexual bonding as a Judeo-Christian tradition. Heterosexual bonding for the majority is no more traditional than homosexual bonding for a minority of the populations. This has been true among placental animals for some 65 million years. Heterosexual bonding is preferred by some couples, both because they prefer its benefits and because procreation may naturally occur. In same-sex bonds, technology has always been required for procreation, in the past, by ménage à trois or ménage a quatre. Thus, children of technology are subjected to increased risks, both biological and psychological. Monogamy in either heterosexuality or homosexuality should be appreciated, and promiscuity in both practices should be discouraged. These are civic, corporeal issues that should not be compromised as supernatural or spiritual--incorporeal. They should be addressed by cooperatively autonomous citizens who voluntarily compromise to accommodate each other including any intended children.
            By all means, mutual accommodation including intended children is change I am trying to promote on this blog. America should at last focus on its civility, putting religion in its proper place: among the private interests. Whereas “god” divides citizens, a supermajority committing to and trusting in the preamble’s seven civic goals offers justice, freedom, and integrity, so that everyone can pursue happiness as they perceive it.
            BTW, Amick’s article introduced me to Ubuntu philosophy. After brief consideration, I perceive that the preamble is a favorable alternative and plan to write an essay to discover my opinion.

Copyright©2014 by Phillip R. Beaver. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for the publication of all or portions of this paper as long as this complete copyright notice is included.

[2] The idea of always representing a proponent’s reference to higher power as “god” to clarify that the God may be unknown, not praiseworthy, or  non-existent came to me, whether directly or indirectly, from Herb Freiler in online comments.