Before I heard the call of Jewish journalism, I was engaged in an altogether different kind of writing, covering professional sports for several publications in the Boston area. My primary beat was the National Basketball Association (NBA) in general and the Celtics in particular, though for a year I edited a weekly magazine published by The Boston Globe that also included coverage of the other local clubs — the Bruins, Red Sox, and everyone’s darling, the New England Patriots. Please don’t hold that against me (#BradyRocks).
People often ask me what it was like to be a sports writer, and I can’t lie: It was a dream. Whether it’s the way we’re raised or something in the (dirty) water, pretty much every native New Englander is obsessed with professional sports. The appetite for sports coverage in Boston, an area with three full-time sports-talk radio stations, has always been insatiable, and even before the age of social media the news cycle was 24/7. And there I was, getting paid to interview players inside the locker room before games, watch practices, and call sources so I could tell the fans about their favorite teams.
Also cool: Even minor sports writers, myself included, in the Bay State enjoy a certain level of ego-feeding prestige. We’re considered prognosticators of upcoming games and authorities with inside knowledge of which players could be traded in the near future. Besides my byline appearing on the same pages that featured sports writing legends like Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy — and sometimes sitting next to them on press row during games — I was also a frequent guest on radio shows and web chats. This recognition had its downsides, too: You should have seen the hate mail that showed up in my inbox when I opined that Celtics forward Kevin Garnett was slowing down. Hell hath no fury like a Boston sports fan who thinks you’re wrong.
But man oh man, was it ever fun, which makes it all the more difficult for people to understand why I gave it up.
The short answer: I gave it up for Shabbat.
As my career slowly progressed, a conflict appeared in the distance and seemed to get closer every time I looked up. Whereas many white-collar professionals work during normal business hours, not so for sports writers, who generally pay for the benefit of breezy morning schedules by writing game stories and columns on tight deadlines late at night, on both weekdays and weekends. And no matter how diligent I was in my efforts, my success would be limited by my inability to work one minute past sundown on Friday evening.
Die-hard fans reading will know that, with the exception of pro-football, the other three major team sports have games on virtually every Friday or Saturday. This didn’t pose a problem for me when I first covered the NBA, because I wrote for a paper geared toward commuters taking public transportation and as such was published only on weekdays. But as my opportunities grew, so did assignments to cover games on Shabbat, assignments I was forced to turn down.
I thought I caught a break when I was hired by the Globe, because our production schedule went from Sunday through Wednesday. However, the scheduling gods had it out for me when they decided to launch our weekly magazine at the tail-end of September, the heart of the High Holy Days season; Rosh HaShanah and the first and last days of Sukkot fell on the busiest production days for three of the first five issues. Even though my job was never threatened, my coworkers — and not insignificantly, my boss — resented my absence in those first few frantic weeks and those relationships never recovered. I was more relieved than saddened when the magazine fell victim to a cost-cutting measure by the Globe the next year.
Though I never considered foregoing Shabbat or holidays to take advantage of these opportunities, I admit there have been times where I’ve resented these religious practices for throwing a wrench in my aspirations.
When I was forced to defer my part-time enrollment in journalism school for a year because the mandatory introductory course I was assigned to was scheduled on Shabbat, my brother, a rabbi, told me that even though it was unfortunate, “How often do you get an opportunity to really sacrifice for Shabbos?”
He was right. One of the ways I show my commitment to Judaism is by trying to adhere to certain principles. Usually that means getting up a little earlier than I’d like to put on tefillin, waiting until Shabbat is over to check my phone, or having to arrange for a kosher meal when I go to a conference. But I consider such instances merely inconvenient. Rarely do I have the chance to keep to my commitment when it’s difficult, or even life changing. Having to turn down a job I’ve always wanted was tough, but at least it made me feel like my priorities were in order.
Also, for me, Shabbat is a day I deeply appreciate. During the week, I’m barely away from my phone, my Apple Watch, or my laptop for more than a few minutes at a time, so it’s something of a relief when I’m forced to unplug for 25 hours. My weeks are so jam-packed with work and family responsibilities that Shabbat is usually the only day I get to relax with my family and friends.
And had I been covering a game, perhaps I wouldn’t have met my wife during Friday night services so many years ago.
The Shabbat taketh, but it giveth back tenfold.