Athletes’ Antics Raise Questions of Loyalty


Published: November 15, 2007

The impact an athlete can have on a city is monumental, especially in times of crisis. The healing power of professional sports was prominently displayed following Hurricane Katrina, when the citizens of New Orleans, La., needed something positive to hold on to; football turned out to be their salvation. Last season, the surging Saints, led by running back Reggie Bush, allowed the disaster-ravaged city to escape its troubles. The Saints made it all the way to the National Football Conference championship game, where they were narrowly defeated by the Chicago Bears.

Similarly, when the Atlanta Braves visited the New York Mets on Sept. 21, 2001, the contest, which was the first professional sports event held in the city since the tragedy that had occurred 10 days earlier, helped a grieving population begin to heal. Though it was only a regular season game against a division rival, the game held a special meaning to New Yorkers after a tragic time.

On the contrary, an athlete can also incite controversy by showing support for a team from another city. Guard LeBron James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was spotted at an American League Division Series game in Cleveland, Ohio, between the hometown Indians and the New York Yankees, sporting a Yankees cap. Making matters worse, James is a native of Akron, Ohio, where he captured the attention of NBA brass while playing at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

By wearing the cap of the rival of his hometown team, James earned the scorn of many Cleveland fans who questioned his loyalty to the city and fan base.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady found his headgear under similar scrutiny in May, when photographers captured him walking the streets of Manhattan also wearing a Yankees cap. While the true baseball allegiance of Brady, who hails from California and played his college ball in Michigan, is unclear, Brady has been known to publicly display his support for the hometown Boston Red Sox. The quarterback’s sudden association with the archrival Bronx Bombers caused such a commotion in Boston that it made the front page of the Boston Herald.

Both Brady’s and James’ offenses were magnified by the fact that they are the faces of their respective

Some fans, however, believe that an athlete’s loyalties should belong with the team he or she plays for, but not necessarily with the city that team calls home.

“If you wear a Mets hat to work, then you’re a Met.  But if I was playing for the [Seattle] Mariners, I’d still wear my [New York] Jets jersey,” said Justin Stark, FCLC ’10.

More controversial are the cases where a franchise’s star player vocalizes his distaste for his team and city. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has played his entire career in L.A., largely due to the organization’s willingness to appease the superstar, including the trade of his adversary, center Shaquille O’Neal, to the Miami Heat in 2004. Recently, rumors have been circulating that Bryant wants out of Los Angeles. During the offseason, a video taken by fans in an L.A.-area parking lot showed Bryant launching into a tirade about his desire to leave the Lakers.

“More athletes these days put themselves ahead of the team and the city,” said Jad Rifai, FCLC ’10. “Kobe[‘s desire to leave L.A.] is selfish because he means a lot more to the city [than other players].  There’s no loyalty there.”

A player’s desire to leave his team and his city is not always as shocking or unpopular as Bryant’s. When Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in October, the reaction among New Yorkers was relatively split.

Dom Chiarenze, FCLC ’10, falls into the faction of Yankees fans that will miss A-Rod’s presence. “[The relationship between] an athlete and his [fans] is kind of like a long-term relationship,” Chiarenze said. “A-Rod is breaking New York’s heart right now.”

Not all Yankees fans are disenchanted with the prospect of A-Rod leaving the Bronx, however.

“Personally, I’m glad he’s gone,” said Vincent Azzinaro, FCLC ’08. “He destroyed the Yankees’ clubhouse camraderie, and teams with good chemistry should seriously consider that before signing him…I hope this is a sign that the Yankees will get back to using homegrown players developed in their farm system instead of buying expensive talent.”

Whether it is the cap a star chooses to wear in public or the decision to leave a team and a fan base after a significant tenure, the behavior of an athlete towards his or her adopted city can greatly affect the perception of that player.