Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: In sports business, don't expect athletes to match fans' loyalty

A few words about loyalty in sports.

As much as we hate to admit it, the cold reality is sports are a business. For the athletes, it's a job. For franchises, it's an investment.

Sure, they care about winning. That's why you saw LeBron James crying when the Cavs won the NBA title. That's why you saw Steph Curry walking off the floor dejectedly when his Warriors lost to the Cavs. Owners fire coaches, coaches bench players and it's because they do try to win.

But as we wondered if Steven Stamkos will leave Tampa Bay and if Kevin Durant will leave Oklahoma City and if LeBron will stay in Cleveland, we can't look at it in terms of loyalty. Emotion is not part of the equation.

Loyalty in sports works like this:

A player signs a contract. He gets paid by the team. And when the contract is up, everything is square. He doesn't owe the team anything and the team doesn't owe him anything.

Players should be entitled to leave without being called traitors, just as teams should be allowed to let players go without being called ungrateful.

A player should not feel obligated to give teams "hometown discounts'' or stay in a city just because he hasn't brought them a championship. His first and only obligations are to himself and his family.

Fans have an emotional attachment to players and they are allowed to feel disappointed when a player leaves. But they should not feel betrayed. A player does his best while under contract. If a better opportunity comes along, he should be allowed to explore it, just as a team should be allowed, even encouraged, to bring in better players if it helps the team win.

In other words, there is no loyalty in sports. Nor should there be.

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