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The Lack of Loyalty in Sports

By Yong-yi Zhu

SPORTS COLUMNIST

This past week saw the transition of several major sports stars from their homes of longstanding to their new homes of much-money-paying. Greg Maddux and Mark Brunell, one Atlantan Hall of Famer and one Jacksonvillian legend, who just happen to be two of my personal heroes, moved from their respective teams to new ones because of monetary issues.

Greg Maddux has been with the Braves, winning Cy Youngs and Gold Gloves since 1993. In fact, he has won just under 200 of his 289 games with Atlanta. Greg Maddux has been a staple with 15 or more wins for each and every year he has been with the Braves. Before that however, Maddux was a Cub, and now he is one once again. He agreed to a two-year deal worth $15 million with an option for a third year at $9 million. With that, he was no longer a member of the Atlanta Braves, because Time-Warner no longer had the type of money that Ted Turner used to have to keep his aces around, especially not the ones that have Scott Boras as their agent. I guess I just never wanted this to happen, despite knowing that it eventually would.

Then, I got a surprising instant message Thursday night when someone informed me that Mark Brunell had left the Jacksonville Jaguars organization. This wasn’t a surprise by any means, but it still managed to jostle me a bit. The Jaguars felt very little allegiance towards Brunell after drafting Byron Leftwich last season. So, as soon as Brunell got injured, Leftwich took over and the team has not looked back. Congrats to Leigh Steinberg for getting such a good citizen such a great contract, as Brunell signed for $40 million over seven years with the Washington Redskins. He has been not only been the leader for the Jaguars, their second quarterback ever, but he has also contributed to his community. However, since the Jaguars did not want to commit the big bucks for Brunell’s leadership and his athleticism, and since they had invested money in their quarterback for the future, they no longer had regard for their quarterback of the past.

But those two are not the exception. Loyalty is no longer the craze in professional sports. I relish the players like Cal Ripken, Dan Marino, and David Robinson who played their entire careers in one club. It’s looking like fewer and fewer people will be those kinds of ballplayers. Several players look like they have a chance of doing that: Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, John Smoltz, and Derek Jeter are a few. Those are definitely among the minority in any sports league.

People who we thought would be a lifer in a city suddenly skip ship on us at the very last second. Take Emmitt Smith for example. Who could have imagined that Emmitt would be an Arizona Cardinal one day. He set the record as a Cowboy and all signs pointed to him retiring at that point. But then, he wanted to continue to play football, and Jerry Jones didn’t care. So much for sentimentality. There was also Jerry Rice, who I could have sworn would end his life in a 49ers uniform. Instead, Rice went to Oakland; how unstorybooklike.

What I never could have imagined was Roger Clemens coming out of retirement to be an Astro. Granted, it is convenient for him to work close to home and granted still that Clemens will get to pitch with his buddy Andy Pettitte, but can’t people just retire anymore? Legendary stories don’t get written because that is no longer of value. Free agency is the coolest thing since sliced bread because players can go somewhere and if their agent is the likes of Boras or Steinberg, they will still get any amount of money they desire.

Loyalty to the team has been replaced by loyalty to the dollar. But I guess in this materialistic world, dollars are everything. Money drives our sports economy: see any Barry Bonds ball auction. What’s sad is that our heroes might not always be our heroes anymore because they enjoy cash flow rather than fan approval. I guess I’ll just have to be a Byron Leftwich and Russ Ortiz fan from now on.