In 2010 LeBron James made “The Announcement” and the sports world lost their proverbial minds. Scenes from Cleveland showed them burning his jersey in effigy and the Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing letter damn near accusing him of Bitchassness (though the actual language was “ selfishness and cowardly betrayal”) and claiming, among other things, he personally guaranteed Cleveland would win a title before the self anointed King.
Over the next four years in Miami LeBron made four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, winning two championships. The Cavaliers had won 61 and 66 games in LeBron’s final two years prior to his departure. The next four years they won 19, 21, 24 and 33 games respectively. Needless to say Gilbert was not able to deliver on that personal guarantee. LeBron then made a triumphant return to Dan Gilbert’s Cavs, appearing in two consecutive Finals and winning the championship, the city’s first, of any kind, in over fifty years this past June.
So as LeBron’s desertion sins were absolved in June, they actually seemed to transfer to Kevin Durant in July. In a move that surprised many, KD chose to take his innumerable talents to Golden State. It may have lacked just slightly behind the hatred imploded upon LeBron, but the scorn voiced by Oklahoma City Thunder fans was significant. It was also a little surprising. He played for the franchise his entire nine year career (1 in Seattle, 8 in OKC where the team relocated). By all accounts he was a model citizen, loved by the community in large part to his philanthropic efforts, which included a 1 million dollar donation after tornados ravaged the area.
Free Agency, for the uninitiated, is the process in which an athlete, at the end of their contract, has the right to sign with whatever team he or she chooses. This is not a new concept but the fan reaction to LeBron and KD show that there is still a disconnect from some of the fans and a few owners as to the obligation a player has to stay with your favorite team.
I am a NY sport team fan aka long time suffering Knick fan. I support the teams and acknowledge that my fandom once (long ago) had me brainwashed into this concept that athletes owed some fictitious obligations to the teams above even their own interests. Life and the realization of how big a business that sports are actually, has shown me that no such obligation exists.
The issue appears most vocal concerning the NBA and NFL. Perhaps, because they are the two most popular team sports in America, and perhaps not coincidentally because their comprised populace is respectively 75 and 68 percent African American.
Generally speaking the NBA is the most progressive sports league, with coaches, upper management and even ownership embodying diversity. Two former players Michael Jordan as Charlotte’s majority owner and Grant Hill as a minority share owner for Atlanta give at least some perspective of ownership understanding the players’ perspectives.
The NFL hasn’t quite caught up particularly with coaching, upper management and ownership diversity. Free Agency in football is more convoluted than any other sport, with players much more restricted in being able to change teams on their own. These restrictions have allowed teams the ability to keep their star players longer and on their terms…and that is the real issue that the average fan does not fully grasp or perhaps just doesn’t care.
In the NBA, MLB and the NHL all the players’ contracts are essentially guaranteed. In football the majority of the players’ contracts are not. In not having the contracts guaranteed, teams are then able to release players or force them to take pay cuts whenever they feel the players are no longer worth the salary they once agreed to pay. Yet, owners and even fans are usually in an uproar when a player, generally in his prime wants to renegotiate a contract that he feels he has out performed. The chants of their being unappreciative and privileged usually drown out the calls for the team to be fair. If teams are able to not pay you (i.e. break contracts) when they feel you have underachieved, why is it not then fair that players should be paid more when they have overachieved.
So, why do I say there is no loyalty in sports? The simple answer is money. The fans, not always undeservingly, view the players as spoiled, overpaid, greedy and entitled. The reality to whatever extent that may be true, the owners are equally at fault. They constantly put their financial interests ahead of their players and fans and the fans appear to finally have taken notice.
The average fan is still loyal to his or her team. That bond is usually imbedded from childhood, but fans are not as dedicated to their team’s players perhaps as they once were, particularly in football and money may also be at the root of that development. Fantasy football in which tournaments and leagues have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, giving the average fan an ownership experience, with the players now taking on the role of commodity.
Fans may still have an allegiance to their favorite team, but are more likely on any given Sunday to be more heavily invested in “their” players as opposed to their hometown team. In America no one can any longer pretend that sports is just a game. It is big business and the economics has slowly seeped into everyone’s collective consciousness and the result is everyone becomes affected. I do not know if the money is the root of all evil, but it does seem to be at the root of a disconnect for loyalty within sports.