STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Our sports commentator, Frank Deford, has been pondering one of this year's biggest questions of loyalty.
Because I analyze athletics and do so as a gentle, sensitive soul, fans often come to me with their sports problems. They see me as an avuncular figure, the Dr. Phil of games, a parson of the arena who can help them deal with difficult personal sports issues. `Pastor,' they say to me, for example, `Pastor, how can I control my wrath when too many commercials come on television during games?' Or, `Tell me, counselor, why does it bother me so much that Shaquille O'Neal is so nasty to Kobe Bryant?'
Today, though, the single issue that fans can simply not deal with is home-team turnover, the way too many players keep changing uniforms. I can't tell you how many fans swear to me that they have given up caring about sports because the players they love leave them for greener pastures, that their teams are suddenly made up of strangers or, even worse, former enemies.
The departure of Johnny Damon from the Red Sox, where he was a hirsute totem to the clean-shaven Yankees, has utterly thrown many fans' psyches into a veritable cocked hat. That this unfathomable transaction took place during the holiday season when family--that is, team--is uppermost in our thoughts has caused even more distress. My hot line has been on fire. `WWJDD,' they used to say in Boston. `What would Johnny Damon do?' Now it is `HCJDDI, how could Johnny Damon do it?'
Well, dear fans, in my most soothing beside manner, let me comfort you with this warm advice: Get over it! Players have always switched teams, either because their team sold them or traded them or because they, like the healthy, wealthy and wise Mr. Damon, had the opportunity themselves. Free agency may be relatively new, but in various periods, when leagues were in open competition, players were like bedouins. At the turn of the last century when the American League came into existence, so many National Leaguers jumped--and some jumped back--that the term `kangarooing out' came into existence. Generations later when the American Football League and the American Basketball Association boiled up, `kangarooing out' was back on vogue. It always will be.
In fact, even though it seems that so many more players are switching teams now, the truth is that even in the dreamy past, few players lived out long careers wearing the same uniform--Babe Ruth most famously, of course--but just to name a few other peripatetic legends, Cy Young, Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmy Fox, Frank Robinson, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, Johnny Unitas, Mike Ditka, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving.
The fact is, today's athletes may be younger, faster and stronger than you and me, but they're no less greedy and opportunistic than we are. Why, given the fact that they have short careers, it's only surprising that even more of them don't kangaroo out every chance. Indeed, inasmuch as we are a transient society and that the rules in our culture have changed and few of us stay with one place of business for the duration, Johnny Damon and his fellows are just mirroring our current culture. Fans are loyal to their teams. Players are passing through. Just instruct your children to look for the uniform and never mind the coming and going of the incidental flesh and blood that fills the uniforms up.
INSKEEP: Those are the comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated and a loyal member of our team. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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