Adam LaRoche was a solid major league first baseman for more than a decade. After a rough time with the Chicago White Sox last year he hoped to bounce back this season. But a couple weeks ago LaRoche abruptly retired for personal reasons. A few days later we discovered that team management asked him to stop bringing his teenage son to the clubhouse, which he previously had permission to do. LaRoche decided he had to choose between baseball and family, so he chose family.
Stephen Curry is basketball’s most popular player right now. He is an exceptional shooter with a winning personality. That’s what everyone sees. This week, ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss reportedthat Curry had signed an endorsement deal with Under Armor instead of Nike. It was a fascinating, detailed look at the shadowy and lucrative business dimension of sports that most fans aren’t privy to.
What do these two stories have in common? Very little on the surface: different sports, different kinds of players, different cities, different issues. But as I read them I saw a common theme: Sports is just a job for professional athletes.
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We see the uniform of our favorite team, and those colors are full of nostalgia and commitment and pain and celebration. We are fiercely loyal to that laundry. But players are loyal to their own personal needs: a paycheck, family commitments, professional fit, growth opportunities.
Our perception of sports leads to certain unrealistic expectations, especially that players would feel the same way we do. We want them to be as loyal and passionate and committed, but they aren’t. Nor should they be. We have romanticized professional sports to such a degree that we’ve lost perspective. We’ve forgotten or ignored the daily realities of being a pro athlete.
If you are employed, you are a professional. You work. You have a routine. You make decisions. Management moves affect you positively or negatively. You have good days and bad days, motivated times and times you drag. You leave one employer for another for a multitude of reasons. So do pro athletes.
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The best sports fan is a fair sports fan. Be one of those. Have reasonable expectations.
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