The Brawl II
Bill Long 11/24/04
The Lawyers Enter, with a Biblical Reflection
Whenever there is an occasion where celebs or visible public figures have done something that may affect their popularity rating, they get an army of lawyers to help them deflect blame and rehabilitate their reputation. Psychologists might at one time have been healers of the soul; lawyers are now the healers of the pocketbook and bruised reputation. Thus it is not at all unusual that Jermaine O'Neal, one of the Indiana Pacers suspended for a good part of the season for attacking fans at the Palace of Auburn Hills, released a statement about the incident. As you recall, Jermaine landed a roundhouse right on the face of a fan about half his size, sending him sprawling on the hardwoods.
Even a person not trained in the law or the ways of lawyers recognizes immediately that the statement was composed by an attorney. It reads:
"I was distressed and shocked to see the situation spiral out of control. I regret what happened, and promise to work as hard as I can to help restore respect for NBA basketball."
The text contains three telltale marks of a lawyer's fingerprints. First, it takes no responsibility for anything. Lawyers tell their clients not to admit anything. Once you admit it, you cannot undo the admission. Even if you delivered several blows to someone and then stood over his bloodied body with the mace in hand and a fiery look in your eyes, you are not to admit culpability. This kind of advice is what gives lawyers a bad name, to be sure. They, like Ignatius of Loyola's statement about a good Jesuit (that he would call the white paper black if the Church told him to do so) tend to give the impression that blinding clarity of fact has no effect on them.
Second, note the passive voice of the statement. Jermaine "was distressed." He "was shocked." It is not that "I did something shocking and I am sorry." He was, as it were, the recipient of distress and shock, as if he was standing around giving high fives to people and then a riot broke out. And, he regretted what happened. Distance yourself from responsibility and liability. That is what the lawyers tell you.
Third, he wanted to 'put the event behind him' by looking to the future. The last sentence says it all. He is resolved to make things better, almost as if the resolution is the fact and the fact is the reality and the reality means that it is better and we should be commending him by the end of the statement. People need to "move on," or "get over it," we say. We have all kinds of shibboleths to handle the situation. Jermaine is hoping that we fill in the gaps by moving on ourselves. But is is hard to do so when images of punches landing on people's heads fill our minds.
A Theological Reflection
There are two significant Biblical stories of attempted evasion of responsibility. The first, in the Garden of Eden, where Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent, isn't directly applicable. More to the point is the story in Exodus 32 when Moses is up on Mount Sinai talking to God and receiving the 10 Commandments. While Moses is on the Mount, the people get restless and ask Aaron, the priest, to construct alternative gods for them out of gold. The text tells us that Aaron told the people to give him their golden rings, which they did. The story goes on:
"He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!' When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, 'Tomorow shall be a festival to the Lord (Ex. 32:4-5).'"
Aaron willingly took part in their idolatrous plan. Of course, when Moses came down from the Mountain after his glorious visit with God and saw what had happened, he was livid, and asked for an explanation. Aaron's mealy-mouthed response blamed the people:
"Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, they are bent on evil. They said to me, 'Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.' So I said to them, 'Whoever has gold, take it off'; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf (Ex. 32:22-24)!"
What a surprise! The calf came out fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' head, when Aaron, following the people's admonition, threw the gold into the fire.
Actually, and surprisingly, Aaron's ruse seemed to work. God hammered the people, and there didn't seem to be any immediate effects on Aaron. Jermaine O'Neal should have been so lucky.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long