This love of sports extended to “spectatorship.” Rarely in stands except for high school football matches, but often attached to the amazing communication device called radio. Not a pixel was present. I learned the names of all the Brooklyn Dodger players as well as many of those on other teams. Like Joe DiMaggio, Warren Spahn, and Johnny Mize.
Once I had mastered the names, I could depend on them being constant. That is, rarely did an athlete hop from one team to another. If I hated the Yankees, I could take comfort in knowing I could hate the same players year after year.
Saturday afternoons, when not with my friends, were often spent in the basement of our New Jersey home where I had an O-gauge Lionel train setup to which I devoted many an hour. In the background was the play-by-play of a football game. Teams like Army, Navy, Dartmouth, and Harvard were common on those broadcasts. Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard were well known army cadets at West Point and in their years there led their team to a 27 and 0 record with a single tie. Yes, back then ties did occur. It wasn’t essential to declare a winner. Two evenly matched teams could share the glory and go home with pride.
Another remarkable fact about that period was most of the players were student athletes. Stop laughing. I mean it. They were in school to study and played sports in addition.
Times have changed. In many ways. In my opinion often not for the better. I’ll be speaking in terms of football, but my comments apply to other sports.
I fear that, while there are still examples of student athletes, most on big name college teams these days dream of playing for a professional one rather than amassing extensive educational credentials. And the pro ranks is where the money is.
And that’s where the problems are.
But not completely.
For example, now it’s easier for athletes to make a bundle while still in college, at least if they’re famous enough or photogenic enough or business savvy enough. They can cash in on their name recognition earned by being outstanding in their sport or simply being clever at a marketing program based on their participation in a sport. As the money rolls in, I’m sure they think that’s better than spending the equivalent time on their education.
Nevertheless, it’s the pros where the big payoff lies. And many will do anything to get there, including tossing loyalty to the wind.
I recently learned of a feature of college football that has been around since 2018: the transfer portal. As I understand it, a college athlete can join it and essentially announce he’s available to leave the school where he made his name to be picked up by a school that he hopes will provide a better path to the pros. College coaches still have to recruit the old way: visit outstanding high school players and try to convince them to join their team. But now they also must recruit from this pool of unsatisfied college players. All while dealing with the loss to the portal of some of the best athletes on their own team. I understand there’s a natural tendency of coaches to prefer the seasoned athletes in the portal rather than high school seniors with no experience at the college level, and this hurts the prospects of those seniors. But for those in the portal, the lure of potential money trumps loyalty any day.
I’ve also learned that even a high school athlete, thinking he could find a better path to his desired college team, can switch schools as long as he doesn’t play for both schools in the same year. For them it’s the beginning of the long road seeking fortune and fame in the pros.
I recognize that for some families this search may seem like the path of escape from poverty, and I view their actions with sympathy. But I also know most kids won’t achieve professional status and perhaps concentrating on education would be a wiser choice.
Whatever, I find this lack of loyalty to one’s professional, college, or high school team disturbing. I think it erodes most of the joy of following one’s favorite team. I can’t understand why a fan’s loyalty would be higher than a player’s.
Is it any wonder I no longer have much interest in watching sports?