THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Money matters: Forget loyalty— winning's what counts
It takes a lot of knowledge and experience to be a sports analyst: there's a reason the jobs normally go to retired players. As I write, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson, Tom Jackson and Chris Carter are analyzing this week's football action on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown (wouldn't NFL Sunday Countdown roll off the tongue a little easier?) and while their technical and personal knowledge illuminate the game, the question of the week doesn't need a lot of analysis.
Is anything more important than winning?
The NFL is nothing if not consistent when it comes to answering that question. This past week Eagles' coach Andy Reid treated his starting quarterback Kevin Cobb– to whom he had publicly committed just days before– like so much garbage when he benched him in favor of back-up Michael Vick.
New York Jets' coach Rex Ryan allowed Braylon Edwards, his star wide receiver, to play in last Sunday's game less than a week after Edwards was arraigned on DUI charges: a breath test showed his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit. It's not as if we don't know what's important to the NFL– it wasn't long ago the league finagled a way to get Tank Johnson off house arrest to play in the Super Bowl.
More disturbing was last week's Sports Illustrated article speculating whether the Yankees will jettison perennial All-Star and team captain Derek Jeter, whose contract with the team is about to expire and whose performance has lost its famed sparkle. Jeter has always presented himself as extremely confident, but one has to wonder about his mental health these days. The shortstop who has spent his entire 15-year career with the Yankees has seen a lot of people come and go, their relevance to the organization be damned.
Plenty of articles have been written about Jeter being the face of the Yankees and the most beloved player in baseball, and "Who wants to see Jeter end his career as a Diamondback?" blah, blah.
But there's no way the Yankees will sign Jeter to another long-term contract; whether he'll spend another year in pinstripes depends on his willingness to settle for crumbs. Despite his recent improvement at the plate, the Yankees will find a way to ditch him– and why shouldn't they?
It's a simple fact that winning makes money and losing doesn't. Whether it's college or professional sports, athletes and coaches are paid to win (even if getting paid is merely a scholarship). Andy Reid isn't paid to stick with a quarterback who doesn't produce, and Rex Ryan doesn't get a check to be anybody's daddy.
It's economics, not altruism: owners and fans pay for performance.
So the message is do what you're paid to do, and the devil take the hindmost. Money makes winning trump everything— that seems like an easy enough proposition to grasp.
Until one watches Pride of the Yankees or Rudy or Rocky or Chariots of Fire or Hoosiers or Brian's Song or The Natural– or any other movie ever made about sports. Not once has money been a positive in a sports movie: even contemporary films like Jerry Maguire and Any Given Sunday portray it as an insidious corruptor of athletes and sport in general. And winning– is that why you watch Rudy every time it's on television? Is it Notre Dame's score over Georgia Tech that brings a tear to your eye?
Where there's true love of sport, there also must be dignity and honor. It's the foundation of all fair play. However, the mere fact that analysts spend hours arguing whether loyalty and moral character are more important than winning means they aren't. If they were, there would never be a question.
There can be no doubt that Derek Jeter will be the latest casualty in the war between greed and sportsmanship; it's a trick the Yankees have played many times. And when they release him, you won't need an analyst to figure out what's important.
Juanita Giles lives with her husband in Keysville where she raises dogs and children.