This blog post is SO late, but I decided to write it using March Madness—the NCAA Basketball tournament as a clever metaphor. Then two #2 seeded teams were beaten by two #15 seeded teams, something that has NEVER happened in the history of the tournament and I realized that the unexpected in a college basketball tournament is more than a clever metaphor—it is a laboratory of contemporary life.
“March Madness” is an interesting distraction that has evolved into a significant American culture athletic mega-event. It is about student-athletes, college-university economics, race, socio-economic class distinction, regional politics, basketball data crunching, and always the impact of the unexpected in a single game of “amateur” basketball. The event has created its own glossary—bracketology and “Cinderellas” and endless systems and methods of picking the actual brackets—winners and losers—of the tournament. Even the President of the United States dives into the strange process of explaining and defending his choices.
Religious thinkers do not really need me to draw out the analogies from the previous paragraphs to understand how many “real-life” experiences can be pulled out of March Madness, but the events of the last two weeks—the actual grizzly painful events, not the curious distractions of two bracket busting #2 seeds loosing to #15 seeds—the college basketball tournament offers us a momentary haven where we can communally weep in horror at how often and suddenly life stops us while we are in the midst of living.
As a Jew, a rabbi, and a Jewish father I was again deeply shattered by the image of a an adult running down an eight year, grabbing her by her hair and holding her by that hair while he changed guns so he could finally shot her in the head. He claimed that this was revenge for the children killed in Gaza by Israelis. In the Hebrew Bible revenge is illuminated in many passages but I could not find a single passage in which an adult grabs an eight-year by her hair! The murder of Jewish children throughout history has been justified by scandalous and perverse excuses, but the image of a crazed terrorist holding that child by her hair while he changed guns will eternally challenge our basic humanity and reject every single explanation.
Crime, poverty, fear and the wanton freedom to carry and use handguns is the toxic mixture that explains urban violence, but none of our explanations nor understandings will ever provide solace over the inexplicable convergence of contemporary social issues that culminated in the murder of a 17 year-old African American. The violence of the past two weeks is senseless, yet in the weeks ahead we will not stop trying to make sense of it all.
The busted brackets of this tournament will never make sense and there will still be a winner. The constant presence of violence in our unfinished wars, the intentional slaughter of innocents by rogue terrorists and the racist vigilantism of too many guns will never make sense and there will never be any winners—always and only mourning losers.
Joseph A Edelheit—Director of Religious and Jewish Studies, St Cloud State University