Posted by Mark Paredes
I’ve decided to write today on another of my passions, soccer. I figure that if a serious writer like George Will can dedicate one or two columns a year to a boring sport like baseball, I can post an essay on the world’s most beautiful game. If you’re not a soccer fan, read no further. If you are a student of the game, then I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that the campaign currently underway to crown Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as the best soccer player ever is both premature and lacking in historical perspective.
There’s no question that Messi is scoring goals right and left for Barcelona, the world’s best club team (and quite possibly the best team of any category on the planet). In every game he’s fed passes by world-class players like Xavi, Iniesta, and Fàbregas, and he performs brilliantly. I have no objection to his designation as the world’s best player right now. But better than Pelé, Maradona, and Cruyff? If he is, it’s way too early to tell.
Pelé’s athleticism was certainly superior to Messi’s: he ran faster, jumped higher, and netted more goals (1281) in his career than Messi could ever dream of scoring. Indeed, Messi advocate Kevin Baxter of the LA Times recently pointed out that even if Messi has an equally long career (21 years) and continues to score goals at his current pace, he’ll score just over half of Pele’s total.
That said, the Pelé/Messi comparison is a difficult one to make. Brazil declared Pelé a national treasure and didn’t allow him to play club soccer outside the country, depriving Pelé of the chance to play in the world’s best professional leagues against the best club teams. Had he done so, it’s highly unlikely that he would have scored nearly as many goals in Italy or Spain as he did in the Brazilian league. In addition, Pelé’s contribution to Brazil’s three World Cup wins in twelve years is questionable. In 1958, he was unquestionably the revelation of the tournament. In 1962, he was injured in the second game and sat out the rest of the World Cup. However, Brazil won without him. In 1966, he was injured in the first round and Brazil was knocked out of the Cup. In 1970, a healthy Pelé played on what is probably the best team to ever win a World Cup. The Argentine national team, with Messi, has never won any kind of tournament.
Johan Cruyff, my nominee for most brilliant soccer mind, was voted European Player of the Century in 1999. He performed wonders for Ajax, one of the world’s best teams in the 60s and 70s, and led Holland to a second-place finish in 1974 behind a talented German team playing at home. Cruyff was the personification of the total football philosophy, which he successfully implemented as the coach of Barcelona. Indeed, without Cruyff there would be no super Barcelona team to prop up Messi. The reason why Cruyff does not rank at the top of soccer’s pantheon is that although he did not participate in the 1978 World Cup, Holland finished second anyway. I firmly believe that Holland would have beaten Argentina if Cruyff had played in that game, but we will never know. At any rate, it’s hard to make the case that Cruyff was indispensable to the Dutch team if they achieved the same World Cup result with or without him.
It is when we compare Messi to his compatriot Diego Maradona, whom I once took around Disney World, that we see just how much more Messi has to accomplish before his name can legitimately be mentioned in the same sentence with the all-time greats. Maradona is lauded for two major accomplishments at the club and international levels. First of all, he took Napoli, a club that was in 12th place in the world’s toughest league, the Italian Serie A, and led it to two national championships (the only ones it has ever had) and two second-place finishes. He also led Argentina to a World Cup victory in 1986 with what is arguably the weakest team to win the Cup in modern times, then led another mediocre Argentina team four years later to the World Cup final against Germany. In short, Maradona was the ultimate franchise player that you’d want to build a team around. If you want to hire someone to score goals, choose Messi or Pelé. However, if you’re looking for someone who can not only score goals but take your team from the bottom of the table to a league championship, I can’t think of any player in history more capable of doing that than Maradona in his prime.
In order to compare Messi to Maradona, the question to ask is not what he is currently doing for Barcelona, a team of superstars, but what he could do for 12th-place Rayo Vallecano if given the chance. Would he be able to lead them to two championships? Based on Messi’s performance on teams that are not filled with stars, the answer is “not a chance.” Until Messi leads Argentina to a World Cup victory and/or demonstrates the ability to play brilliantly while surrounded by teammates not named Xavi or Iniesta, soccer writers have no business mentioning him in the same breath as Diego Maradona, the greatest player to ever play the game.
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March 18, 2012 | 8:44 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I was delighted to read this week that Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Pastor John Hagee’s pro-Israel Evangelical organization, is now 1 million members strong, making it the largest pro-Israel organization in the world (I think the LDS Church holds that honor, but I digress). The good pastor created the organization in 2006, and its membership has doubled just in the past two years. Kol hakavod to Pastor Hagee and his indefatigable executive director, Jewish attorney David Brog. As I read coverage of CUFI’s banquet held earlier today in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Netanyahu in attendance, I couldn’t help but ask myself the question that is often posed to me by Jews and Mormons alike: Why isn’t there a Mormon CUFI (“MUFI”)?
To be sure, a credible LDS pro-Israel organization would fill several needs. First of all, most Mormons in the U.S. are very pro-Israel and lack an organization of their own through which they can publicly express their support of the country’s policies. I know of several Latter-day Saints who have tried to find a place for themselves in CUFI, but they are invariably marginalized and given second-class treatment.
Second, MUFI could express Mormons’ affinity for Judaism in addition to Israel. Latter-day Saints believe that they are modern-day Israelites who worship in Israelite temples, possess the Israelite priesthood, and are led by Israelite prophets to honor the Abrahamic covenant.
Third, MUFI would be able to represent pro-Israel Mormons at venues where the LDS Church could not. For example, if there is an Israeli attack on Iran in the near future, large pro-Israel rallies will likely be held in major cities. Non-Jewish religious leaders are usually invited to attend and speak at these rallies in order to demonstrate that support for Israel is not restricted to Jews. Would the LDS Church send official representatives to these rallies? I doubt it. However, representatives of MUFI could go and make a powerful case for ordinary Mormons’ support for Israel’s security.
Which brings me to an analysis of how this proposed Mormon organization would differ from CUFI. For one thing, whereas CUFI is led by pastors and endorsed by their churches, MUFI would need to take great pains to emphasize that it represents its members only, and is NOT a part of and/or endorsed by the LDS Church. This is probably not a big deal to Jews, who are not hierarchically-minded and don’t automatically assume that officers of religious non-profits officially represent their faiths, but it’s important to LDS leaders on all levels to minimize confusion between Mormons with opinions and Mormons who are called upon to officially represent their church.
In addition, unlike CUFI and similar Christian pro-Israel organizations, there can be no expression of anti-Islam sentiment by MUFI. While condemnation of terrorism is unobjectionable, any credible LDS organization will avoid criticism of the Islamic faith, for which Mormons and the LDS Church have great respect.
Finally, it is unlikely that MUFI would choose to adopt the CUFI (and AIPAC) policy of essentially endorsing any position adopted by the government of Israel. Mormons are ultimately led by prophets, not prime ministers, so while MUFI’s support of Israel’s security would be unquestioned, it would probably reserve the right to remain silent on any issues on which it and the Israeli government diverged.
I believe that such an organization could succeed in demonstrating to Jews and their friends worldwide the support of Mormons for Israel, Jews, and Judaism. We have an unparalleled history of continuous support for the Jewish people, and in many ways it’s a shame that a MUFI does not yet exist. While I applaud the efforts of Evangelicals in CUFI to embrace the cause of Israel, I can’t help but hope that Mormons will soon have a pro-Israel group to call their own.
My good friend Larry Bagby, a former LDS bishop, will be speaking on “Order in the LDS Church” at Adat Elohim synagogue in Thousand Oaks, CA on Wednesday, April 18 @ 7:30 p.m. Free.
March 12, 2012 | 12:45 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
It’s easy to see now why the voters of Pennsylvania gave Rick Santorum the boot six years ago. Now that he’s decided to play the same Mormon card that worked so well for the equally bright Rick Perry, I hope his defeat in the upcoming primaries is even more humiliating. Tomorrow morning the honorary chairman of Santorum’s Florida campaign, Rev. O’Neal Dozier of the WorldWide Christian Center, plans to hold a press conference in Pompano Beach with a group of other bigoted African-American pastors. Their purpose? To ask Mitt Romney to “openly renounce his racist Mormon Religion” in order to “foster and maintain good race relations here in America.” Their unstated purpose, of course, is to benefit Santorum by reminding Southern voters of Romney’s faith before they cast their ballots the following day.
Now let me get this straight. The Rev. Dozier has labored for decades in his ministry, and has all of 2,000 souls to show for his efforts. I don’t know whether he knows the definition of chutzpah, but it takes a considerable amount of it for him to presume to label a church “racist” that has over 350,000 members and 1,000 congregations in Africa (the LDS Church’s fastest-growing region), 1.2 million members and 2,000 congregations in multiracial Brazil, and many black members in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the United States. In my last blog post, I profiled a black Mormon who is running for the presidency of Mali. As a biracial Mormon, I laugh at the pastor’s ignorance and arrogance.
The good book tells us that by their fruits ye shall know them. The Mormon Church is building chapels and temples in Africa and Brazil at a record rate, sealing black couples together for eternity, calling blacks to leadership positions (including callings as senior Church leaders and spokesmen), bringing blacks into the Abrahamic covenant, and keeping black families together throughout the world through gospel-centered teachings. As far as I can tell, the good reverend is living off his flock (he reportedly drives a Mercedes and likes expensive suits) while preaching that homosexuality “makes God want to vomit” and that Islam is a terrible religion. It’s actually a badge of honor for Mormons to be on Santorum’s religious hitman’s list.
There’s no need for me to revisit LDS Church history here, because Santorum and his proxies should be looking to the future instead. Romney has won the overwhelming share of the Mormon vote everywhere, while Santorum has lost the Catholic vote in every major state. I guess his coreligionists can spot a fraud when they see one. Things must be going badly for Rick if he’s nominating bigots as honorary state campaign chairmen. This country deserves better, and so does Rev. Dozier’s flock. If he wants to see black Christians who are enthusiastic about their faith, he should do as I did and visit Mormon congregations in South Africa. Heck, maybe he can hold a similar press conference in Johannesburg featuring his “racist Mormon Church” message. I’ll pay his airfare if the Mormons there buy it.
March 5, 2012 | 12:09 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Jews and Mormons who want to meet a future Mormon head of state should head to Claremont Graduate University this Wednesday. There they will hear a handsome presidential candidate with a master’s degree and picture-perfect family articulate his vision for the future. His name? Yeah Samaké, the front-runner in next month’s Malian elections.
Yeah has a rags-to-riches story that would put any American politician to shame. One of 17 children born to a family in the village of Ouéléssébougou, he was encouraged by his parents to get an education and make something of himself. He became a volunteer teacher and Peace Corps interpreter, and was eventually invited to continue his education at Brigham Young University. He completed an M.A. in Public Policy and married Marissa, an Indian who was born and raised in Bahrain. They and their children lived in Utah for a few years, then moved to Mali, where Yeah became mayor of Ouéléssébougou. Here are several articles on Yeah with more career highlights of this remarkable man:
Needless to say, unlike with Mitt Romney, all Mormons can unite around Yeah’s candidacy (though I’m pretty sure that the LDS Church will not endorse a candidate in the Malian elections). He’s the personification of the phenomenal growth of Mormonism in Africa, the church’s fastest-growing region. Moreover, he’s a proud Mormon who speaks often and openly about his faith. This openness is all the more remarkable given that he and his wife are the only Mormons in the 90% Muslim country.
Yeah is so committed to transparency and to fighting corruption in Mali that he has refused to raise money there, since there would be many favors expected in return for financial support. Instead, he raises money abroad. I don’t have a lot of money to give him, but I can what I can do is promote his upcoming speech, which is sponsored by Claremont’s Mormon Studies program. Here’s the 411:
Wednesday, March 7
Albrecht Auditorium (Stauffer Hall of Learning)
925 N. Dartmouth Ave, Claremont 91711
Yasher koach, Yeah.