Disloyalty spoils everything. Look what it’s done to professional sports. I’m not talking about things like fixing games or using performance-enhancing chemicals. I’m talking about shredding bonds between players and fans.
I don’t know about you, but when I get interested in a sport, I commit seriously to particular teams and players. Because of roster turnovers, I find it increasingly difficult to commit to either.
For the uninitiated, roster turnovers are not gourmet desserts players enjoy after a win. They’re a managerial attempt to upgrade teams by changing personnel. They’re a process, not a pastry, although they entail dough, lots of it.
As a youngster in the 1930s, I fell madly in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs and bonded irrevocably with Turk Broda, the goalie. Neither betrayed my trust. Thanks to their commitment to each other, Broda spent his entire 14-year professional career with the Leafs. Now that’s fidelity
As a teenager, I added the Detroit Red Wings and Gordie Howe to my stable of sport favourites. Of course I did. Not only was Howe one of the greatest hockey players ever. He hailed from Saskatoon, my hometown. More important, he played 25 consecutive seasons with the Red Wings before retiring in 1971. That’s fidelity plus.
Yes, I know that a couple of years later he joined the Houston Aeros of the newly formed World Hockey Association. But I don’t expect players and teams to stay together until death. Until retirement is fidelity enough for me. Retirement is to sports what death is to marriage. The difference is that players sometimes come out of retirement whereas spouses rarely come back to life.
Although not much of a baseball fan, I couldn’t help bonding with Joe DiMaggio. Both offensively and defensively he was an elite performer. But it wasn’t his prowess at bat or his agility as a centre fielder that impressed me most. It was his commitment to the New York Yankees, and their commitment to him, for his entire 15-year major-league career. Why, that’s nine years longer than his commitment to two marriages.
I was well into my 30s before I got interested in football. Oh, I watched the odd game on TV, but I found the antics of the officials more entertaining than the tactics of the players. I attribute my delayed interest in the game to not having played it as a youngster. I didn’t play hockey or baseball as a youngster either. But I played at them to the best of my inability and well enough to become a spectator.
Only gradually did I become a football spectator, beginning in 1966, when the Saskatchewan Roughriders won their first Grey Cup. Quarterback Ron Lancaster and running back George Reed ignited my interest with their spectacular play and cemented it season after season with their commitment to the team. Lancaster played for the Roughriders for 16 years, Reed for 13. How could I not bond with them?
True, the stellar quarterback didn’t spend his entire playing career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He made his Canadian Football league debut with the misnamed Ottawa Rough Riders. I suspect that the labels confused him and he signed with Ottawa by mistake. Clearly, it was an invalid union, which he nullified after three seasons. This allowed him to join the proper Roughriders and they remained faithful to each other until retirement did them part.
Whether in players or teams, that level of loyalty has declined markedly as rosters turn over at ever increasing rates. Some attribute the decline to free agency and salary caps; others, to money or, more precisely, the love of it.
I suspect it has something to do with declining loyalty in society at large. When I started bonding with players and teams, not only were rosters more stable than they are now. So also were marriages. Both culturally and legally, society discouraged spousal turnovers. For the uninitiated, spousal turnovers are not gourmet pastries enjoyed after a successful divorce. Like roster turnovers, they’re a process, not a dessert, although they entail desertion, mutual or otherwise.
Anyhow, whatever the cause, I have little appetite for roster turnovers. I can’t stomach continually connecting and disconnecting with strangers. When I watch the home teams play, I want to feel at home.