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Rabbi Joshua Hess Headshot

Modesty And Major League Baseball

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Major League Baseball's winter meetings are always full of drama and excitement. Every couple of minutes baseball insiders are tweeting the latest updates on which teams are going to land the hottest (and by hottest, I mean, most talented) free agents. Now that the Angels won the Albert Pujols sweepstakes, we will see how the rest of the teams fare.

Just the other day, though, MLB created some interesting news of their own. Beginning next season, the media will be required to adhere to a specific dress code. Failure to do so may result in a fine or being denied access to the players. What is this new dress code? Among other things, "Ripped jeans, visible undergarments, sheer clothing, one-shouldered and strapless shirts or clothing exposing bare midriffs will be banned. Skirts, dresses or shorts cut more than three or four inches above the knee will be deemed to be in violation."

It doesn't take a rabbi to realize that MLB is primarily concerned with women's attire. They are concerned that the male baseball players will act irresponsibly and unkindly toward scantilly clad female journalists. (See Ines Sainz and Erin Andrews.)

Is it fair to penalize female reporters because grown men can't behave themselves? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to teach men to control their lusts instead of forcing women to dress in a specific manner? At the end of the day, it's the baseball players with the problem! When these same guys are partying in the clubs after the game, they see plenty of women dressed in skimpy clothing. Should the nightclubs stipulate entrance based on proper attire?

MLB officials claim that they need to create a "profesional environment" in the clubhouse. I think we all know how to read between the lines: If a female writer dresses provocatively, the players will react inapropriately, creating an unprofessional environment. Doesn't it seem, then, that MLB is blaming the woman for man's problem? True, dating back to Adam, men have a history of blaming women for their own failings, but, at its core, this is an emotion that men need to keep in check. I don't believe that it's easy to achieve, but isn't the very definition of "profesionalism" the adherence to standards in the face of adversity or distraction?

In the final analysis, however, I believe that MLB is making the correct decision by instituting this new mandate. This is not because, as an Orthodox rabbi, I subscribe to a traditional standard of modest dress -- even skirts one or two inches above the knee are traditionally viewed as immodest dress -- but because of another biblical principle that everyone can rally behind: "Don't place a stumbling block in front of the blind," which commands us to avoid placing obstacles in front of people who may not be able to avoid them. Yes, men need to control their urges and they must always treat a woman with respect no matter how she dresses. At the same time, however, it is not fair for MLB to place men in situations where they have a high chance of failure. If athletes choose to hit the town and party on their own, that is certainly their perogative and they should enjoy themselves (unless they are married; then they better run home). As an institution, however, MLB must attempt to avoid inappropriate behavior in the premises it controls. Just as women are not forced to take a job that requires them to interview exciteable and emotional men after the thrill of victory or the disappointment of defeat, men should not be forced to confront, on a daily basis, a volatile situation in which failure can have significant adverse consequences. I understand that there is a fine line to walk here, but MLB is making the right call.

In our early morning prayers, men and women ask God not to place them in positions to sin or transgress, nor to place them in positions to test their willpower. In the event that they ignore their own prayers, well, they have to deal with the consequences. But for other's to place them in an uncomfortable position, well, that's not right. And so, I applaud MLB for making the correct decision to help create a more "professional" environment.

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