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Ryan Braun & the Challenge of Integrity

07/24/2013 01:03:28 PM


This past week the Sports world witnessed a scene that has become all too familiar- namely the suspension of Ryan Braun, one of baseball's best players, due to steroid use. 

Braun's saga is of particular interest and not just because he might be the best Jewish baseball player since Sandy Koufax. Braun was found guilty of steroids some two years ago after winning the MVP and swore on his life that he was innocent. He promised that he was a person of the highest integrity and that if he had cheated he would be man enough to step forward and take responsibility. At the end of the day because of a technicality in the handling of his sample he was absolved of guilt. Now, two years later, he has been forced to come forward and essentially admit that he has been lying for years and in fact was guilty of cheating and using drugs.

The question that has emerged has been 'was it worth it?'. After all, because he cheated and then vehemently lied about it, Braun was awarded with a contract well over 100 million dollars which will set him and his family up for generations to come. He lied, he cheated, he ruined people's lives along the way and he has been shown to have no integrity- but in a way he made it to the pinnacle of his profession and has amassed the riches that come along with that success. So- was it worth it? Is it worth sacrificing honor, integrity and reputation to become wealthy or even to become more comfortable?

I think anyone reading this e-mail would passionately and emphatically say that it is in fact not worth it. A person needs to be able to live with themselves and live by a certain code and that far outweighs whatever comfort greater material success might bring. I'm reminded about the story of the author of the Kav HaYashar, who worked as a poor tradesman of sorts, who asked to be buried with his ruler. His great pride in life was that he never undermeasured, or overcharged and that he was a man of his word. He wanted to be buried and ultimately come up to shamayim with his measuring stick in hand.

That being said, this saga in the sports world made me question what do we sacrifice in our attempts to 'make it' or even just to get by. I hope the answer is that very little is sacrificed, but I think its a question without an easy answer. Most of us are just trying to get by, put our kids through Yeshiva/college and live a normal and somewhat comfortable life. Inevitably along the way, time with our family, time to just sit and reflect and time for intellectual pursuits all take a backseat. Sometimes as people are just trying to make it in a world that can be unforgiving, they can find that their behavior has become more aggressive, language skirts the border of appropriate and instead of the darchei noam- the ways of pleasantness that is mandated by the Torah- there are those who become more hardened and cynical. Sometimes those sacrifices (if in fact they have occurred) are never felt and sometimes they are felt after the course of many years when people sort of sit back and ask themselves 'what's this all about?'.

In this area, the words of the Ba'alei Mussar are especially instructive. The ethical works encourage us to constantly be 'yefashfesh b'ma'asav'- to always be in a state of self examination. How is my moral compass? What are the areas that I have slipped in that were once important to me? What do I need to prioritize in order to be the type of person that I demand of myself? What am I willing to sacrifice for my career and what remains sacrosanct? 

The lesson from Ryan Braun, and from the hundreds of thousands of others who have 'lost their way', constantly remind us of the tricky and challenging balances that life demands of us. We should merit to have the necessary discipline, integrity and self reflection that allows for every professional and personal challenge to be transformed into another thread of our beautiful personal tapestry.

R' Blass

Fri, May 7 2021 25 Iyyar 5781