The death of empathy


Four days ago I wrote this column for Sports Illustrated’s website. It’s the saga of Sal Fasano, veteran baseball journeyman who, at age 38, is very concerned about paying for his 2-year-old son’s heart surgery. I’ve known Sal for a long time, and consider him to be a very worthy, noble man.

Yet in the aftermath of the piece, I was shocked by some of the letters I received. In summation: Why should I feel bad for Sal Fasano? He made $300,000 last year to play baseball. Do you know how many people would kill for that? Yabba Dabba Doo …

Though I understand the sentiment, I am nonetheless saddened by it. Universally, from coast to coast and across all spectrums political, religious and economic, we Americans possess strikingly little empathy. The Fasano case reminded me of an instance several years ago, when I gave my peanut butter sandwich to a homeless man begging for food in New York City. A person I know said, “Why’d you do that? The guy should get a job.” I was horrified. Maybe the guy should have gotten a job. Maybe he was a scam artist. A fraud. But, come day’s end, he was still a human being standing on a corner, asking for something to eat. That alone merits sympathy—just as Sal, money be damned, is a person scared to death about his son’s plight.

Yet this is who we are; what we stand for. When it comes to health care (whether you agree with the current plans or not), there seems to be little-to-no empathy for the millions of Americans who can’t afford a plan. When it comes to taxes, we all whine and complain and moan (myself included), forgetting that, somewhere out there, an AIDS clinic … a homeless shelter … a battered women’s support group—depends on federal and state funds. We walk past the homeless man and don’t flinch. We see a foreclosed house and instantly think (excitedly), “Great! Now I can buy that!” We hear of fatalities overseas and comfort ourselves by saying, “Well, at least they weren’t Americans.” We are heartless, and it truly sucks.

Why, just two evenings ago, while sitting in synagogue listening to Yom Kippur service, an old man got sick and needed help. While some people made their way to his side, and others called 9-1-1, the rabbi and cantor just kept rolling along, trying to distract the attendees from the ugly situation at hand.

That sums it up: Turn your eyes. Look elsewhere.

Ignore the bleeding.