TO STAY OR GO??

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Sports just because

There comes a time in every athlete’s life when he/she must ponder the question “Do I stay or do I go?” I am referring to the inevitable question that must be asked when a player’s contract is up and they are afforded the luxury of being a demanded talent. This post was thought up when reading a recent article on ESPN.com discussing the option facing Wilt Ch…oops I mean Dwight Howard, and what he should do after next season when he can exercise his opt-out clause. If you aren’t the biggest NBA fan and somehow haven’t heard of him, Dwight Howard is an unmistakable talent in the NBA with incredible size, athleticism and pure basketball talent. He averaged a super-human 23pt 14 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, all numbers which should earn him co-MVP honours with Derrick Rose but that’s another issue for another post. The article I read had multiple writers saying that Dwight Howard should leave sunny Orlando Florida and its Magic fans for greener pastures after this extension is up. I take issue with this because why are we always siding with the player’s on this? Should the owner’s have control over their movement? Maybe slightly more like the NFL so players don’t take over the league and ruin it. More importantly though I believe players have a responsibility to these teams to some extent, let me explain.

When you are drafted into a major sports league number one you have just won the lottery. Will your winnings be entirely monetary based? No, or at least they shouldn’t be because you have now reached what should be your dream, and the dream of millions of others. You have been granted the opportunity to play a game for a living, a very modest living at that. Now before you start saying “well hey the owners make much more, ‘the owners this’ and ‘the owners that” these owners are very rich well before they bought these teams. Please remember that to own a team you need a minimum net worth as you have to be able to purchase the team and also continue to support it financially to ensure the teams existence. So, let’s not side 100% with the player’s or the owners because at the end of the day everyone makes money, some more than others but hey that’s capitalism and that’s the world we currently live in. There is a reason that I am writing this blog and not sitting in my corner office at MSG. Once the player’s have been drafted and signed their contracts they are not just an employee of the organization, I look at them as more than just an employee. Are they a role model? No, they are not. Your children should be looking up to strong world leaders, doctors, educators, peaceful activists and all the other good people that are changing the world in a positive light not athletes. However they are now a member of the community. They own at least one piece of property in that community, they buy groceries there, drive on the same roads, share the same mayor and more importantly they both have a vested interest in the sports team. This connection alone should make the player both proud and want to succeed not only for themselves but for the fans. Isn’t that why they play the game? You play for yourself and for the fans? I always here athletes say “this one is for the fans! I want to thank all our fans!” Well if it’s for the fans then why are you leaving them? Why would an athlete want to turn his back on those that supported him both emotionally and financially from the start to go to another town that is jumping on the bandwagon?

A great statement I’ve heard being used in the past few years is “doing what’s best for me and my family.” Please, you know what’s best for your family? Staying healthy and playing the sport you used to love purely for the game and not the amount of zeros it gets you on your bi-weekly paycheque. Again, I understand the business of sports and that these guys want to make the most money wherever they can. However, when you’re a star, a top 10 star both in talent and recognition inside and outside your sport, you’ve got financial security for at least 2 generations after you if you’re smart. With countless players now making eight figure salaries before endorsements the onus is on them to be smart with their finances and not spend on everything they could possibly want or see. So saying moving from your home town where childhood friends, family and countless supporters are is best for your family is bogus. When you make over $10 million a year you can make any situation best for your family.

So now that I feel I’ve covered the financial reasons that do not support leaving your current team, as there are none really, let’s move on to the sentimental reasons supporting the stay factor. When you embark on your professional career there are certain obligations that I feel you must meet, some are current and some are just my own. You must: workout with the team, practice with the team, attend your meetings, meet with the media 75% of the time as you are partners in the industry, speak one of the official languages of your countries employer so all fans can understand your quotes, be involved (not a leader, just involved) in your community and play with heart. The team obligations are of course mandated in your contract, but being a part of the community comes with the territory and part of that is the connection with the fans. You are now one of them, communities embrace their stars like a proud parent and that should make you feel so wanted and adored that you could never leave. Yet players leave all the time, why is that? In today’s markets any team can keep their star if the star wants to stay. Alexander Ovechkin without the help of an agent negotiated his own deal with the Washington Capitals in 2008 why? Because he liked the team, liked the city and its fans and he wanted to stay. He could have left to any team in the NHL, any team would gut their roster to have his calibre of talent (amongst many other young stars in the league) on their team. He chose to stay with the team that drafted him and odds are likely he will finish his career there too.

This all comes together and is important to me as a fan because I like nothing more than when I see a player stay with the team that drafted him, give back to both the team and the community and become the ultimate athlete. This is not their duty if you will, but it’s something that I think every athlete should at least feel they should do as the right thing. Their talents are a gift from their family’s gene pool and very few people get to have those opportunities and to take them for granted by ignoring supportive fans that live vicariously through their success is disappointing. Take for example the recent summer of LeBron James and his big move. I know I know, we’ve heard all the stories all the opinions we don’t like how he did it, why he did it, the collusion of players, etc. I’m done with hating and wishing poor success upon the franchise, but what I’m left pondering is why? Sure you get to play with your friends in Miami minutes from the beach and have a water front mansion but you probably already owned a house there anyways. Miami is not your home though, Cleveland and Ohio was your home. They were your neighbours, your friends, family, teachers, mailmen, they were one of you. The rarity of that opportunity coupled with Cleveland’s historically bad luck in professional sports made that opportunity so unique and so one-of-a-kind I still don’t understand how he turned his back on it. Again, a team in the NBA with the soft cap rules can buy any players they want and still make money. If your team is winning and winning with entertaining players they will pay to see it. Maybe not so much in team sports like hockey where one player cannot make the difference, but in basketball when one player can be the whole show people will pay to see it. This is the same fate facing Dwight Howard next year and many other athletes at one point or another in their careers, why leave a good thing when the benefit you will receive from leaving will have such a negative impact on so many others?

If there’s one thing I can leave you with after this piece it’s that athletes are fully entitled and within their rights to leave any situation they want to go to any other one that will have them. I just expect a little more from my professional athletes. Now do I expect they will all be the saviours like Drew Brees? Or the comical and advertising juggernaut that is Peyton Manning? No, but they can make a difference both in their sport as well as the communities that support them. This goes beyond your annual charity bowling party, fans are people too and they should also be considered. If you’re going to be on TV acknowledging the fans are the ones that drive the sports, which we are, then treat us the way we deserve to be treated, don’t dump us because we gained a little weight. Take the time to work on the relationship and give it time, good things come to those who wait and great things come to those who commit.

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