Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Sports Viewpoint: Where has all the loyalty gone?

<ucony, a well-respected manufacturer of running shoes in America, has as its mantra, “Loyal to the Sport.” Though speaking specifically of running, Saucony could just as easily be referring to any athlete that’s ever laced up his shoes to play a game he loves. It would be hard to argue that any serious competitor is not loyal to his or her sport, but what about to his or her team? “Loyal to the Golden State Warriors”? Not as catchy. “Loyal to the Twins”? A little more plausible. But the truth is that, with the globalization and business expansion of sports these days, remaining loyal to one team has become much more difficult. And I only see it getting worse.

When thinking of loyalty, local names like Mauer and Puckett come to mind. Nationally, names like Ripken and Stockton and Lemieux stand out. Not only did these players shine in small- and mid-market sports cities, but they also remained faithful to those cities throughout their careers. Most still remain present in the community and active in the happenings of the team in the front office. Their loyalty to their team extends beyond the playing field and, among dozens of other athletes looking for a few more dollars or a chance to win a championship, their allegiance is magnified tenfold. They are labeled “saviors” and are propelled to demigod status. Sports need more athletes like these.
Sticking with baseball, I find myself wondering what it is about players like Mauer or Ripken that transform them into larger-than-life figures. In small- and medium-sized sports towns like Minneapolis and Baltimore, athletes that remain faithful to a team naturally adopt the underdog mentality; they don’t play under the biggest lights, but they play against the biggest stars, and they give their all every time they step on the field. They are hard-working, dedicated, and gifted. Men like Cal Ripken, Jr., for example, who came to the baseball field every game for 2,632 consecutive games, cannot help but be admired for their commitment to a game that can permanently ruin one’s image or convert one into a national disgrace. There is something to be said for those who willingly choose an incredibly public profession, but those who do it all in one city with one team carry an extra burden; the city lives and dies with its team. And the most loyal athletes and fans fall the farthest and have the most to lose.

Case in point: LeBron James’s “The Decision,” an hour-long television special aired this summer to reveal which team would be fortunate enough to land King James for the foreseeable future. When it was revealed that he would be leaving his hometown team to join the Miami Heat, Cleveland and its fans lost it. Jerseys were burned, murals as tall as apartment buildings were taken down, and disappointment permeated the city. It didn’t help that LeBron was an Ohio boy through and through, born and raised in Akron, or that the city coddled him and his image, only to find out through a television special that he would be taking his game to South Beach. They felt betrayed, as if they had been strung along just for publicity’s sake. As if they were nothing more than a holding pen until another team threw the right lineup at him. In a medium-sized sports city like Cleveland, an athlete of James’s stature comes around once in a lifetime. To lose him, then, was like betrayal of the worst kind. He injected the city with life, gave them a reason to hope, and subsequently deflated it on his way out. Like I said, the city lives and dies with its team, and the most loyal fans fall the farthest.

Having said that, professional sports enjoy casting villains almost as much as they do heroes, and so oftentimes decisions made are portrayed as egotistical, selfish, and one-sided. Additionally, for all the things we think we know about athletes, they still have private lives, lives played out outside of the stadium. Decisions made among family and friends are rarely told in front of a microphone, and as such we must remember that some choices extend beyond our knowledge. Nevertheless, players like Joe Mauer and Cal Ripken, Jr. will always be remembered for their loyalty, both to the sport and to their team.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *