Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Loyalty in sports. What loyalty?

This appears in the Monday February 24, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

What loyalty?
by rick olivares pic of jimmy nielsen from kansas city star

In sports, words like “respect”, “heart”, or even “fight” go hand in hand. But “loyalty” or the a colloquial version “iba ang may pinagsamahan”? Uh uh.

That’s out of the window. There is no such thing as loyalty in sports. It’s simply a clever tag line developed more for the fans and public to lap up. And we believe it until such time we’re shocked by the temerity of some to break that unwritten code of loyalty by transferring to a hated rival.

Let’s face it, no one screams in the huddle, “Loyalty!”

The 2008 Boston Celtics chanted “Ubuntu” (an African term that translates into human kindness and "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity") when they broke their huddle. Some cheer, “Puso” (“heart”) while others say, “together”, “One Big Fight”, “Team”, “Respect” or “Win, win, win” Maybe World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) John Cena is the exception with his “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” slogan. But Cena (I am a fan) remains one of the most polarizing figures in the WWE.

But go preach loyalty to Danny Granger. Or the Penn State Nittany Lions. The list is endless… Vlade Divac (he carried the Lakers post-Magic Johnson then was traded away for Kobe Bryant), Ray Allen (used as trade bait by Boston so he left as a free agent to rival Miami), Michael Owen (we’ll get to him later), Phil Jackson (in the midst of winning six championships for the Chicago Bulls management tried to unload him because they wanted a coach who was more pliant to their wishes), or even Olsen Racela (let’s not go there) to name a very very few.

We all know what happened to Granger who was the face of the Indiana Pacers post-Malice in the Palace. Bet you haven’t heard about the Penn State Nittany Lions.

After the child sex scandal, Bill O’Brien was hired to replace the disgraced Joe Paterno and he promptly led them to a better record than anyone anticipated (8-4 in his first year and 7-5 in his second). After his first season in Penn State, the National Football League’s (NFL) Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles interviewed O'Brien for the head coaching position. Said O’Brien, "I’m not a one-and-done guy. I made a commitment to these players at Penn State and that’s what I am going to do. I’m not gonna cut and run after one year, that’s for sure.” Then he praised his players and the school for being loyal to him.”

The Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi quoted O’Brien as saying, "The players who are here now and the guys who were here last year could've gone anywhere. They didn't have to stay at Penn State, but they committed to each other, they committed to Penn State, and they committed to our coaching staff. I felt it was important that they understood that I was committed to them. What are you if you're not a man of your word?"

A few weeks later, he bolted for the NFL’s Houston Texans.
What a guy!

And there’s former Petron Blaze assistant coach Leo Austria who once upon a time was promised a head coaching position on his sterling performance at the helm of Adamson University in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the San Miguel team in the Asean Basketball League (ABL). He’s been since cast adrift. Remember the old World War II saying about loose lips sinking ships? In this PBA franchise, loose lips can cause you a spot on the team loyalty be damned. Danny Ildefonso knows this all too well. Iba na talaga ang may pinagsamahan. Wala talaga.

Sports doesn’t need to be professional in nature to give the thumbs down to loyalty. I can name you several schools in Metro Manila who would drop players from its roster because they aren’t cutting it. Now that’s fine. Players get cut all the time. The problem is, even their scholarships are taken back. So what if they cannot pay for their college education? I thought that they were student-athletes? The student comes first. It’s all B.S. when it comes to these schools that espouse that win-at-all-cost mentality.

Loyalty is so nebulous; an ideal, really.

One plays his butt off for his club, represents them well, then is jettisoned when he gets hurt of management decides that the contract they resigned him to is an albatross.

Conversely, comedian Jerry Seinfeld offers a different take on loyalty: "Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing, the team could move to another city…you’re actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it. You’re standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they’ll boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt, they hate him now! Boo! Different shirt! Boo!”

Unless he is Michael Owen who eventually played for Manchester United after starring for Liverpool, then I am guilty as charged.

Sports psychologists have been studying fan loyalty. There’s a difference between the die-hard fan who sticks with the club through thick or thin and the fair-weather fan who is around only when the club is winning.

I’ve been a fan and supporter of Liverpool Football Club during the 1980s when they ruled English and European football. They have not won anything other than the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League and a few minor trophies since 1991 but not the cherished domestic title.

I have been a fan of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) New York Islanders since the late 1970s and the last time they won a Stanley Cup was 1983 that was the tailend of their four-peat. Islanders’ hockey has since been dreary with a few exciting playoff chases here and now.

And many of my friends wonder why I root for them even when they have not won anything significant in some time. Why not the sexier clubs that win all the time?

I guess loyalty does exist in sports in some way. The way Derek Jeter has stuck it out with the New York Yankees for 20 years. The way Steven Gerrard stayed with Liverpool even when Chelsea came a-calling.

As for me, maybe loyalty is more for the fan who flagellates himself for all the losing and then he recites a litany of excuses beginning with, “there’s always next year.”

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