Sunday, November 18, 2012

We Should All Learn From Magic Johnson, Especially the New York Jets

ANONYMITY OFTEN SERVES A very important purpose in religious and secular life. The Talmud teaches us that one of the greatest forms of charity is “Matan BiSeter,” anonymous giving, which spares the recipient from embarrassment and shame. It can also be used as a sort of deterrent: Moshe asked God to delete his name from the Torah if He destroyed the Jewish people after they worshipped the Golden Calf. Ultimately, God had mercy on them. In our society, anonymous reporting of information can play a crucial role in our national and local security.

Under some circumstances, however, anonymity is a vice and not a virtue. The New York Jet football players who anonymously criticized Tim Tebow acted cowardly. Giving constructive criticism can be helpful to an individual, if it’s done in a respectful and sensitive fashion. Indeed, the Torah commands us to reproach someone about their negative behavior as a means of improvement and not for the sake of shaming them; but public criticism is only warranted if the transgression necessitates it. If Tebow’s teammates honestly believed that he was failing the team, they had a right to be critical. It would have been proper for them to approach him privately with their criticism, or, if they felt it necessary, they could have criticized him publicly, but in that case, they should have the courage to stand behind their criticism. Instead they made a public mockery of him for no rhyme or reason and did so anonymously!

I found it ironic that the same day this NY Post expose on the Jets was published, Laker legend, Magic Johnson, showed them “how it’s done” when confronted with a similar challenge and frustration. When it comes to basketball (or real estate) decisions, it’s hard to argue with Magic. He knows his beans. If he believed that Phil Jackson or even (gasp) Jeff Van Gundy were the best available choices to serve as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, he may well be right. He was angry that Jim Buss chose Mike D’antoni (I like the choice, personally), but he didn’t share his anger with the world. Quite the opposite; he kept his composure.

Magic Johnson Pop Jewish

Two days after the hiring he tweeted, “The reason I haven't tweeted in 2 days is because I've been mourning Phil Jackson not being hired as the Lakers head coach.” He followed it up with this: “My mother always taught me that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.” Later that evening he was on NBA countdown on ESPN and explained that D’antoni is a good coach, but not the best fit for the Lakers and that he doesn’t trust the decision making of Jim Buss.

There’s probably more to both the Tebow and Jackson stories than we know. As a long time Laker legend and former part owner of the team, Magic surely knows much more than he’s sharing. But his behavior shows us how we need to act when we are upset and frustrated with a person or situation. Magic didn’t stand behind the veil of anonymity, when he had something critical to say. In fact, Magic reminded everyone on Twitter a few days back that, as a player, he took responsibility for having Paul Westhead fired. He’s blunt and frank, but always acts respectfully.

Thanks Magic for showing us how to handle ourselves the right way. But I hope you are wrong about D’antoni.


Rabbi Joshua Hess is the co-founder of the PopJewish.com blog and a rabbi in Linden, New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter at @Rabbi_Hess