It's time for me to have a little heart-to-heart chat with my fellow sports fans - Cleveland fans in particular. Don't worry - I'm not about to tell you how to behave on twitter, what to say/not say. It's a free country - for both fans and athletes... However, Sports Times, they are a changin'. And if you don't accept those changes, you are in for frustration, rage, twitter battles and maybe a little heartbreak. Our expectations regarding the off-the-field behavior of athletes are unrealistic and outdated. I blame Bernie Kosar.
Today's professional athlete's aren't like your father's players. To misquote John Rambo, "they don't love us as much as we love them." And it's really not their fault. While Free Agency in baseball started in the 70's, it didn't hit the NFL until the late 80's. Fans didn't see too many changes in the cultural aspect of fandom at the time. It was just too new. But an entire generation has been raised with only FA as the model, seeing athletes as "Property" with a monetary value that goes to the highest bidder. They weren't born when athletes spent their whole career in one team's uniform.
But in Cleveland, we have Bernie Kosar... a football player who, in effect, "gamed the system" so that he could play for the team he grew up loving - the Cleveland Browns. As fans, there is NOTHING more flattering than a top prospect not only dreaming about playing for your team, but making sure every other team out there knew he wouldn't be happy anywhere else. Our shared fandom connected us, made us proud, gave us hope. And spoiled us for the next generation of athletes.
As fans, we expect a loyalty from our players that has become unrealistic. Oh, you can make the argument that we pay their outlandish salaries so they should think about our needs 24/7, but come on. These players don't get any loyalty from us or the team. We scream and yell when they make a bad play or get injured. We talk to them on twitter like we actually KNOW them, and we can be very cruel. (not judging, just saying). The team can cut or trade them at any time. It's all part of the deal they sign on for when they accept the contract. The money may be big, but careers are fragile. Athletes cannot be blamed for looking out for themselves.
And consider this: for some athletes, their own families put unreasonable pressures on them. During last
year's OSU scandal involving players selling memorabilia for money to help out their families, I felt sad and a bit enraged. I admire their sense of responsibility in wanting to help out back home, but as a parent, I was enraged that these kids couldn't just attend to their school/sport. It is MY job as a parent to take care of my family and I would never put that burden on my children's shoulders. I see far too many college and pro athletes these days who have been RAISED to believe they were the financial future of their family. I can't fix that, but I can lament that it has come to be true.
Now, none of this changes the fact that it ticks me off when Phil Taylor or Josh Gordon share twitter love for the Miami Heat. At the very least, they should KNOW that it's going to rub a lot of Browns fans the wrong way. Should. Hmmm. Maybe they don't. Maybe they really truly honestly don't understand us. Maybe we are still just the angry ex-girlfriend who thinks everything revolves around us. But I think it's more than that, more than just saying CLE fans are too sensitive, have low sports-self-esteem, whatever.
I think it's simply that athletes today do not connect with fans because they were never fans. Not the way we are. Bernie Kosar grew up as a fan, with the hope that one day he could play pro ball for "his" team. There are tons of examples of players who were raised as fans of the game first, who are truly appreciative and humbled by the opportunity to play a game they love and get paid.
And then there are today's 20-something athletes who were never really fans but were raised to see sports as a Career Opportunity like being a doctor or a lawyer. They don't really love the game like we do. Once you accept the fact that it takes a fan to understand a fan, you can see why these athletes don't understand us. It's not personal. For them, it's just business. And that's ok.