Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
In 2011, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Braun, whose father is Israeli, identifies as Jewish, so it was a big moment for Jewish baseball fans; only two other Jewish hitters have ever been named MVP — Hank Greenberg and Al Rosen — and the last Jewish player to receive the honor was Sandy Koufax in 1963.
Two short years later, Braun was suspended for violating the MLB’s substance abuse policy. At the time, when men who grew significantly in size were being banned from the Hall of Fame and other players were using to get inflated contracts, Braun’s suspension shocked baseball fans everywhere.
For Jewish fans, it raised an important question: Do we still celebrate Braun’s MVP — a rare feat for a Jewish brother — or frown upon his actions? Like all other players caught taking performance-enhancing drugs, Braun was dealt MLB’s internal consequences, but Jews take their sports, especially their baseball, to heart. We had to decide whether we could see “the Hebrew Hammer” in the same light.
In recent news, now Jewish New England Patriots star Julian Edelman is facing a four-game ban for PEDs. Jewish sports fans fell for Edelman after his incredible Israel trip video and support of the Jewish homeland as well as his close friendship with Jewish Patriots owner Robert Kraft (and non-Jewish quarterback Tom Brady).
Edelman sat out last season due to a devastating injury and has worked his tuchus off to get back on the field for the start of the 2018 season. So when I saw the text from my brother-in-law that Edelman was getting hit with a PED suspension I was embarrassed, angry and disappointed in a player I have come to respect a great deal.
Maybe this will surprise you, but I have quickly forgiven both Edelman and Braun (not that they asked me for it). Why would a rabbi forgive such public deceitfulness?
First, these two men (assuming Edelman is found guilty after his appeal) broke a league rule, not a societal, moral or ethical code. While their action were public and we could consider this marit ayin — the Halachic prohibition of certain permissible actions because they could be mistaken for actually prohibited actions — both Braun and Edelman were taking legal drugs to heal their bodies quicker, presumably to get back on the field, help their team win, support their families, and play the game they love. I am not condoning rule-breaking, but I am saying that their cheating wasn’t a crime, it was a work policy.
Secondly, the general public’s disengagement from these superstars, and their accomplishments being forever tainted will suffice as punishment. To watch an athlete, fall from grace is not a pretty sight, and they often face hardships, especially when the time comes to transition into life outside their sport.
Finally, both came forth with public apologizes, statements that owned up to their wrongdoing. As fans, we should forgive these men after they ask for it because that is also a core Jewish value: “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17).
We live in a world that is quick to judge or label someone over one issue or mishap. Although I do not think we need to applaud Braun or Edelman’s behavior, we also do not need to pigeon-hole them as drug-abusers and cheaters. Should Braun’s trophy be taken away? Maybe. Should Edelman be banned from this year’s Pro Bowl game? Probably. But these two men are far more than just the label we will place on them because of one work place policy. And I hope both will use their mistakes to help younger players and fans be better than they were.