Fans' expectations for loyalty unrealistic - NBC Sports

Fans' expectations for loyalty unrealistic
Dedication to one team a bonus, not requirement for athletes, owners these days
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One thing is clear in theÿDwight Howard saga -ÿthere won't be any loyalty shown by the player or the Orlando Magic, writes contributor Michael Ventre.
July 25, 2012, 11:07 pm

What if, say, you worked for a company called Amalgamated Widgets. You have been there for several years. A competitor comes along and offers to double your salary - among other enticements - to join its operation. You, of course, take the requisite three or four seconds to pretend you're grappling with the decision. Then you bolt.

I don't know too many people in the United States of America who would condemn you if you embraced an offer like that. So why is their such outrage when a professional athlete does it? For that matter, why is there any uproar whatsoever when a team makes a decision to cut a player? It works both ways. And it should.

The instigators of the indignation should look in the mirror, because therein lies the problem. Fans' expectations for loyalty in a cutthroat world are antiquated and na‹ve. Professional sports has always been about business first, and they always will be.

That's not to suggest loyalty isn't admirable. It is, but it should be viewed as a bonus, not a requirement.

Cole Hamels is golden today in the city of Philadelphia. He just agreed to a new six-year contract worth $144 million to remain with the Phillies. But you know if it ever got to the point where the Phillies had offered only $132 million, and another team presented a higher offer that Hamels accepted, he would be have been treated like someone who spray-painted "The Liberty Bell Sucks!" on the Liberty Bell.

The players at Penn State are considering their options. In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky punishment, the NCAA declared that those players can transfer elsewhere if they want to, without having to sit out a year. I would respect someone like running back Silas Redd if he decided to stay with the Nittany Lions. But I wouldn't trash him if he left. Circumstances have radically altered his agreement with the university, and he has every right to do whatever is best for him. If he transfers, detractors would just be wasting their Twitter energy.

This may not make complete sense, but go with it: The Knicks are the Clippers of the NBA.

And then there's Dwight Howard. Calling him indecisive is an insult to flip-floppers. But one thing is clear: There won't be any loyalty shown on either side of that tussle. If Howard can get wherever he wants to be - once he decides where that is - he has every right to go there. If the Orlando Magic can obtain a terrific deal for him and improve its franchise, it should do so.

The way Howard has gone about his business is a mockery to career planning. He has botched everything from the beginning, and now he looks like a villain. But he certainly is within his rights to use whatever leverage he has to strike the best business deal. The Magic would do the same on the other side of that equation.

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Professional sports offer an unusual proposition to fans: Give us your money, and your heart. We'll take the former, and break the latter. At least that's the way it often appears to fans.

Fans see the deal as being one-sided, because they misunderstand it. Sports are part of the entertainment business. All they should expect to get from them is entertainment. They become suckers when they invest their emotions too freely and heavily, when they start to apply the same notions of love and loyalty that they value in their relationships with friends and family. They want to have that same relationship with their favorite athletes and sports teams. They want to identify.

Maybe that was a possibility in the `40s and 50s, when the relocation of teams was rare, when movement of athletes was much less frequent, when sponsorship and broadcast deals were far less lucrative, relatively speaking, and when living and dying with a team like the Brooklyn Dodgers was a lifelong possibility. But those days are long over.

When big-time television revenue and free agency arrived, a frost appeared across the landscape of pro sports. It's still there, thicker than ever.

What hasn't changed is a longing on the part of sports devotees for something to believe in. That's not only fine, that's commendable. It's pleasurable to attach yourself to a team, live vicariously through its exploits, and then talk trash the next day at work.

But sometimes even the most ardent partisan will be presented with a development that tests his ability to keep things in perspective. When an athlete gets into a scrap with management, it's important to keep in mind that each side is acting in its best interests, not yours. Ideally, loyalty should be reserved for those who want nothing from you, not from those who want to make a profit off your passion.

Sports are a blast. It's a joy to root for your favorite team. Just remember that they want your loyalty, but often they won't give you theirs. You deserve a better deal than that.

Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44

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