Friday, March 6, 2015

Loyalty, schmoyalty

You hear it every time some professional athlete making a pile jumps ship in pursuit of a bigger pile: There's no such thing as loyalty anymore.

The presumption being, of course, that once upon a time there was such a thing as loyalty.

But there is not and there never has been, which is why it's a headline now when a player opts to stick with the one who brung him. That it should also be a headline when the one that did the bringing opts to stick by him somehow never occurs -- although it should, because that sort of loyalty has been found wanting for a lot longer.

Free agency, after all, has only around for 40 years or so. Prior to that, it was only management that could either display loyalty or leave it by the side of the road. And it did the latter a lot. If he were still alive, no one could attest to that better than John Unitas, discarded by the Colts after he had essentially made them what they were.

Which is a roundabout way to ponder what happened to Reggie Wayne today, speaking of the Colts.

What happened was, the Colts cut him loose, after 14 seasons. After 211 regular-season games. After 143 wins. After 1,070 receptions.

The 211 games and 143 wins are franchise records. The 1,070 receptions rank second alltime.

But now he's just a spare part who makes too much money, and so the Colts decided to release him. It was all aboveboard and respectful, a business deal in an industry that long since abandoned the fiction that professional football had anything to with the playing of a game. And so everyone understood, and  Colts owner Jim Irsay said all the right things (no one will forget what 87 did for the Colts, blah-blah-blah), and the team even made it sound as if the Colts were doing Reggie a favor by cutting him loose so he could pursue a deal elsewhere.

All aboveboard. All very respectful. And you know what?

It still sucked.

It still reeked to the heavens that a man could give so much to an organization for so long and then, through no fault of his own, find its doors shut against him. This was not the Peyton Manning thing, after all; that was about a player coming off surgery that might or might not have worked, with the next great franchise quarterback waiting in the wings. This was just about a guy who got old.

And, yes, that happens, and, yes, when it does, organizations are going to do what they have to do to keep moving forward. But how badly would it have hurt the Colts moving forward to let Reggie play out the string as a Colt?  Especially when he wasn't at all sure he was coming back for a 15th season, anyway?

Instead, the Colts moved on this before Reggie even told them what his plans were. Maybe they had to. But it still feels like betrayal, not to say ingratitude.

Look. You can't fuel a successful business on sentiment. Everyone knows that.

But without at least a little, what's that business really worth?



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