Opinion: Shut up about loyalty in sports


Matt Poe

Matt Poe

I’m sure by now you’ve seen the video from this past weekend of Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving making fun of LeBron James during a wedding reception. Of course all the Cleveland fans in my life freaked the hell out and every talking head I follow on social media tried to decipher Irving’s intentions in the video.

Does he really hate James? Would he dare join the Warriors? Are the sun and the moon the same person because you never see them together?

Anyways, those same Cleveland friends of mine bashed Irving big time when reports surfaced that he may be seeking a trade and doesn’t want to return to play with the Cavaliers, for whatever reason.

I can’t blame those friends for being pissed off or upset about it — you don’t want to see me around my teams when they lose (which is often) let alone if my star player said he wants to skip town.

I’d be upset too.

That being said, I am no longer surprised when athletes do this and neither should any of us.

Yet time and again, this narrative that athletes should remain loyal to the team that drafted them is conjured up by fans and the media as a talking point. Not only does it make the player look selfish when they may not be (although there are instances that say otherwise) but it makes us look stupid for continually talking about it.

An athlete’s loyalty to a team is a thing of the past, gone the way of the Dodo bird or the American Dream. We love to glorify and reminisce about days past when an athlete would play his entire career with one team because it’s an easy narrative: that guy has grit, he loves his city, what a good dude! We as fans crave guys like Tony Gwynn who played his entire career for a mediocre Padres team when he would have been smarter to jump ship.

The reality is that there is just too much money in sports these days for athletes to value loyalty to a city or organization instead of to their bank account.

I’m half tempted to make a Wu-Tang Clan reference here, but I’m afraid I’ll sound cornier than Peter King.

We forget that athletes are just like an any other employee in the workforce. They should take advantage of every opportunity to improve their salary (contract) and move to a different employer (team) if the opportunity arises without us (shut up, Skip) chastising them for doing so.

I already told you a few weeks ago that James will be leaving next year for another team as he enters the mogul stage of his career. And Irving appears poised to do so as well, maybe even before the season starts because of the toxic nature his demands could bring to this team in the forthcoming season if he sticks around.

I want this argument to die a very painful death. Tell me one other profession that we outright criticize a person for improving their livelihood. I’ll wait (dies of old age waiting).

I know part of the fun with sports is debating and discussing things that largely don’t have any real world consequences. But what us as fans and in the media love to do is speculate that we know what is best for a player and it’s gotten worse with the notion that players only care about championships these days.

Everyone is asking why Irving wouldn’t want to play another season with James because as recent history proves, he’s your best shot at playing for a championship. We’re assuming that Irving values and covets winning above all when his request for a trade seemingly indicates otherwise.

Not all players put winning above all else, and Irving seems like one of them, a guy who would be perfectly fine putting up 30 points a night on a team that wins around the same number of games. Oh, and getting paid roughly $30 million a year.

That’s his prerogative. It doesn’t make him a bad guy or disloyal. He doesn’t owe a single thing to Cleveland. He is a good player and a great scorer but by no means is he a great player; You’ll find someone else.

I think there’s something romantic about looking back on athletes who spent their entire career in one place, regardless of their level of success achieved at said place.

It’s like sticking with your longtime partner and making things better, even when that new hottie comes walking into your life and you’re tempted to leave it all behind and run to Tijuana together.

OK, maybe it’s not like that. We’ve crossed a threshold in a sports where we can no longer deny how corporate it’s become and ignoring what’s right in front of you makes you a blind sheep. Sure it kills a little bit of that nostalgia you had as kid when you dared not dream of your favorite player leaving for someone else. HE’S MINE, DAMMIT.

It’s naïve to think that athletes owe us anything other than to play hard for our entertainment purposes. If you think that makes me cynical, well, we obviously haven’t met.

Matt Poe is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].