NATIVIDAD: Knocking players who want to jump ship is hypocritical
Anyone who played sports as a kid has done this before. In our local parks, schools or driveways, we’ve pretended to be a professional athlete playing the game we love. We’ve counted down the final seconds to the championship game. “Five-four-three-two-one,” and just before the imaginary game clock wound down to zero we would attempt to drain that buzzer-beating jumper, kick that game-winning goal, or throw that final red zone touchdown to win the “chip.” To get that bling, to get that ring, that trophy that signifies the pinnacle of victory. Oh the glory of it all.
Fantasy sports … before the internet.
But for the wide majority of us, that’s exactly what it was, a fantasy. We didn’t all grow up to become Michael Jordan, or even Mark Madsen at that. No, the closest we got was competing in high school, some local rec tournaments or maybe even some college ball if we were lucky. And while it’s easy to imagine the luxuries of being a pro sports athlete — the money, the fame and the adoration — we don’t understand the nuances of that life, and what it takes to sustain. Only they do.
So when I see certain sports fans and media personalities losing their minds and judging professional athletes when they have the desire to leave their current teams for another, it seems a bit silly. Surface hearsay if you will.
In recent years, we have seen a wave of player empowerment when it comes to athletes in their prime taking matters into their own hands by choosing teams that they actually want to play for, and not teams they feel an obligation to play for out of loyalty. Who can forget Lebron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to play with his friend Dwyane Wade in Miami where the duo would win two championships. James would eventually go back to the Cavs, win them a championship and then leave again to play for the Lakers where he currently resides in Los Angeles.
In another show of player fortitude, over the summer former Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Paul George demanded a trade to the LA Clippers to play with fellow super star Kawhi Leonard. George and Leonard are both from Los Angeles and are primed to become the best duo in the league. More recently, NFL wide receiver Stefon Diggs expressed his discontent with playing for the Minnesota Vikings. The man who was the “Minneapolis Miracle” is currently in the second season of a $72 million five-year contract, yet rumors abound that he wants to be traded from the team as he is unhappy with the team’s new offensive scheme. Scrolling through fan reactions online you can find hate-filled comments attacking Diggs’ character, personality and loyalty. One commenter ranted about how Diggs gets paid millions to play a game most people do for free and that he should be happy with what he has and stop complaining, adding “I wish I had his problem.”
To the victor go the spoils… as salty as they may be.
Historically, we’ve seen franchises throw players to the curb despite their loyalty to their fans and franchise. NBA hall of fame center Patrick Ewing was drafted as the number one pick in 1985 by the New York Knicks leading them to multiple playoff appearances, and one NBA finals appearance. After 15 years as the face of the franchise, though, they traded him to the Seattle Supersonics. He would retire two seasons later.
After leading the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl championships, quarterback Joe Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs following an elbow injury and controversy around being replaced by a younger quarterback, Steve Young. Many fans and players did not like the move away from Montana given that he was ready to play and healthy following the injury. Montana would retire after two seasons with the Chiefs, helping them to win their division for the first time in 22 years, and also leading them to an AFC Championship game.
To put this in perspective, say you worked at a company for more than 10 years, got several job offers to go elsewhere but never did. You stayed loyal, you worked to make the company better and more profitable, only to have the CEO tell you one day that “Hey, thanks for helping us out, but you’re getting old … I’m sending you and your family off to another state to work for another company for less pay.”
That’s the reality these players live in. This happens to the best of them. Even worse, given the rigors of athletic competition they have even less time to work. But for some reason, some of us think it’s fine when a franchise does it to the player, but a travesty when a player does it to the franchise.
Why the double standard?
In the end the player’s and their talent, athletic abilities and competitive nature drive these sports. Not the owners. No one wants to pay to see old balding men in suits play sports ball (golf being the exception). No, we want to see Lebron James chase down the game-winning layup and pin it against the backboard to secure Cleveland’s first and only NBA title. We want to see Madison Bumgarner pitch two games in a row to win the World Series. We want to see Venus Williams pound a looping backhand down the the line to win Wimbledon.
We enjoy those magical moments that seem unreal. Athletic feats that defy the laws of physics, and competitive will that drive players forward to accomplish the unthinkable. We want to witness the amazing because it gives us hope that the impossible, is possible (cue the Kevin Garnett memes).
So before you judge a player for wanting to be traded, for wanting to win, for wanting to give us these moments on their own terms, just remember that these are people too, with families and real reasons for wanting, or not wanting, to play for certain teams.
The fantasy, for them, is actually attainable. So why knock them for trying?
Ivan Natividad is a columnist who contributes to The Union regularly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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