The Super Bowl…like any sacred event

Ever year at Super Bowl time and World Series time, people point out the parallels between sports fandom and religious fervor.

(It may also happen with NASCAR events, but I wouldn’t know.)

Anyway, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, an astute commentator on the interaction between religion and, well, everything else, has sent out some thoughts or talking points about the Big Game this Sunday.

hirschfieldp.jpgHirschfield is co-president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in NYC and the author of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong For Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism (he’s a big promoter of interfaith dialogue).

Here are his thoughts:

1. This really is a competition between two understandings of what sports is all about and says a lot about the two teams’ fans and how they see the world. If you root for the underdog, and think it’s about the struggle to succeed, you’re probably a Giants fan. If you crave perfection like a machine, the Pats are your team.

2. Although not identical, football on Sunday and church on Sunday are more alike than most of us realize. Like any sacred event, it brings people together to focus on a particular performance which speaks to their hope and aspirations. When sports and religion are done right, we feel the fullness of our freedom. We really feel that we are as Gods.

3. Whether you are playing or watching the sport, you will be reminded of the amazing things our bodies can do, of the incredible capacity that we have as human beings, and how far we can carry ourselves and others if we train hard and work long enough. We experience “being in the zone,� what psychologists call “the flow state,� of being where we are suppose to be, doing what we are suppose to do, with the people we want to do it with, and doing it all so well and naturally.

4. The importance of using this safe experience to teach ourselves and each other the difference between being a fan and a fanatic. The former loves his team but enjoys a great game no matter what, the latter can not see beyond his own team and can not appreciate the good found in the other one. The parallel to world events is clear.

5. People will create communities and celebrate this event, just as they do around religious milestones. Small communities committed to a particular team will connect to each other and to an international body supporting that same team, and ultimately, to everyone who loves the game.

For what it’s worth (not much), I take the Patriots, 38-16.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.