Marriage between fan and franchise

This isn't your grandparents' era. If your team can't carry a tune, it's OK to change. AP Photo

“Lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk of life.”

-- Napoleon Hill, “Think and Grow Rich”

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In every sport, every year, every season, there seems to be a team that pushes its fans to the brink. Allegiance is tested, loyalty challenged, and decisions to even support the team are put into question.

Yes, there are marriages in sports -- between owners and coaches, franchises and players, players and coaches. But it’s the marriage between fan and franchise that seems to be one of the most unconditional, exploited and taken-for-granted relationships in existence.

While teams can divorce themselves from coaches and players, and players and coaches can file for legal separation from teams and organizations, fans are not allowed the same liberties with franchises.

In the unwritten Commandments of Fanhood -- which to a degree are a barometer in determining and testament of someone’s manhood and womanhood -- leaving a team after “making a commitment” is irreligious, irreverential, unholy and often considered ungodly. Wanna know how Judas felt? Reject a sports team that you once loved and supported. There’ll be a verse about you written by your former friends in the next Sports Bible.

But what if, right now, you are a die-hard fan of the Chicago Bears, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Mets or all of the NHL. At what point, after the annual emotional turmoil these teams (and league) have been sending you through, is it all right for you as a fan to walk away from your team (or league) and not be criticized, chastised and ostracized for bolting on what you claimed to once love?

In 1937, when Napoleon Hill wrote that testament to the importance of true loyalty, he didn’t have to sit and watch the Mets decay into a team that couldn’t get cast for a “Bad News Bears” remake; he didn’t have to watch the Lakers turn a ready-made championship squad into a dysfunctional sports reality show; he didn’t have to endure another season as the Bears (I can derisively insert the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles here also) underachieved and underperformed while the players and the front office seem less concerned or upset about the results than the fans.

I’m sure if he were alive today sitting on a couch somewhere in a Philip Rivers jersey, Hill would seriously be rethinking the order of loyalty and failure in that statement.

When is it a good time to bail on a team or a franchise? Is there ever a good time? Is it ever acceptable? Is it ever fair?

For decades, people have stayed with teams longer than they have spouses. Parents have cut kids off from trust funds and Christmas dinners but stayed with the teams they grew up loving or the teams that earned their respect over the years.

Sports have a different DNA than life. You can make the decision to never speak to your best friend again because he or she borrowed $100 from you and never paid you back, but you are labeled a traitor if you have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years for Cubs season tickets and finally decide after 101 losses in 2012 and 104 seasons removed from a title that you can no longer support the inevitable.

That’s not life; that’s a form of torture for being loyal.

Fans of the Lakers, Mets and Bears should be able to bolt. Fans should be able to go straight Popeye (“That’s all I can stands ...”) on each organization with full public understanding and without anything held against them.

The problem is, once you jump off and the team finally decides to get its act together and start doing the things you were screaming at the top of your lungs for it to do in the first place, is it allowable for you to jump back on the bandwagon? Can you “remarry” without getting doors slammed in your face by the loyalists who stayed?

Fans should be given those rights. We should have that leverage. No one should be subjected to annual acts of front-office incompetence and uninspired play while being vilified or called out when we boo the play on the field or decide that we can no longer swallow the unprocessed manure teams keep feeding us insisting it’s molecular gastronomy.

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Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy in “Why Loyalty Matters” wrote:

“Historically, loyalty wasn’t optional. Ostracism represented the ultimate disgrace. Why would early settlers in the American colonies tolerate public humiliation, such as being put on display in medieval stocks? Why not simply leave the group? Because leaving was even more unpalatable. It meant no support, emotionally or physically, from the community. And no support most likely meant an early death.

“But times have changed dramatically. Leaving the group seldom risks one’s survival today. The prosperity of the modern era has also provided us with greater opportunities. These opportunities bring with them the greater likelihood that we will shift our loyalties in search of greener pastures. As a result, leaving the group has become the increasingly popular option when we object to the actions or positions in a community.”

Sports by nature is old-school. It follows Old Testament rules. As much as we like to think times have changed, in many areas of sports they haven’t -- especially when it comes to the relationship between fan and franchise.

“Sacrilegious” is the word often heard when fans disassociate themselves from a franchise, almost as if it is against human nature to do such a thing. Truth is, these sports teams are not religions. They are businesses. Businesses that at the end of the day are preying on our loyalty to them.

In the bible, (Isaiah 42:16) it says, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

In sports, exodus should be an understandable and forgivable option. Because too often we as fans, at the hands of both players and owners, have been forsaken.