By Robert Zeglinski
In his heyday, great observational comedian Jerry Seinfeld had a famous routine detailing the incredulous nature of how people get emotionally invested in sports. There’s no rhyme, logic, or reason to picking one’s favorite players and teams. Often, it’s because someone so happened to be watching a particular or team as a kid. Sometimes it’s who their parents passed down to them in heritage. In most other senses it’s purely geographically related, meaning whichever major brand was closest and most accessible: Which at its core, is understandable.
Where sports fandom is then weirdly treated as this life-or-death familial struggle, when one takes a closer look, the inherent insanity of being a sports fan comes into true focus.
“It’s different guys every year,” said Seinfeld repeatedly and famously in the early 1990s. “You’re rooting for clothes, when you get right down to it. We’re screaming about laundry.”
Nowhere does this concept need to be reverberated more than when it comes to free agency. As the NFL works through its open market period this week, it’s especially in focus.
If you’re a fan of any NFL team like the Bears, you root for laundry first. A franchise player can wow you with an incredible catch, tackle, or sack, but you’re still rooting for laundry as a first priority. You watch sports because freakishly talented human beings accomplish feats you could only ever dream of. But ultimately you only care about these human because they happen to be wearing the colors of the team you pour your heart into through your television every week.
It’s as dissociative of a relationship on a general level as it gets. You have a similar connection to a random egg Twitter profile as you do with an athlete you’ve never had a one-on-one interpersonal conversational with. In the case of the egg profile, at least they say hello from time to time.
Why then, do some see putting on another opposing jersey as a mortal sin? Loyalty has never gone both ways in the fan-player and team-player relationships at this level, if anywhere. If a team and fan can’t offer anything to a player in the form of financial stability and security, it’s more than their right to find a new, more comfortable home. It’s time to accept the mythos of hollow loyalty often doesn’t exist and doesn’t matter.
After four seasons punishing receivers over the middle on the lakefront, Adrian Amos is literally moving on to “greener” pastures with the Packers. With a four-year, $37 million dollar deal in hand, it’s a contract he earned every bit of as a professional. A contract the Bears weren’t willing to comply with as they replace him. After locking down slot receivers for the better part of the last four years, Bryce Callahan is also likely on his way out of Halas Hall with the Bears’ signing of former Jet Buster Skrine. Whatever deal and team Callahan does end up, he’ll have earned every bit of it as a professional. A contract the Bears weren’t willing to comply with as they replace him.
As both former Bears secondary standouts move on, it’s important to remember they don’t owe anything to anyone but themselves. Amos doesn’t deserve disparaging racial comments on social media because he so happened to sign with Chicago’s main sporting rival. He worked hard for his new opportunity in what is his profession: The equivalent of the office setting of an average Joe. He doesn’t hate the fans that poured their hearts out for his trademark big hits over the last few years. He’s purely looking out for what’s best for him. In the coming event where Callahan takes his services elsewhere, he shouldn’t be dragged through the mud either. This is their livelihood and their right to take their valuable talent wherever they so choose.
A fan can view a player as a legend, a role model, and someone they grew up watching. They can see them as revered figures and often self-identify with their struggle. Look no further than Chicago athletes being described as blue collar any time they excel at the little gritty details of football. Every depth guy suddenly making a dirty play is typecast as a Grabowski regardless of skill. In the end, many fans only ever start caring about these athletes because they happened to put on the laundry of their favorite team at the right time. Not because they were amazing relatable human beings.
Guys like Amos in this prism, and Callahan to an extent, are supposed to sacrifice everything for the good of the long-term mission. They’re not supposed to think of their long-term goals, financial stability, and life outlook if it means hurting their incumbent team. That’s as backward of a concept if I’ve ever seen one.
The NFL doesn’t have the greatest history with labor rights issues. There have been separate strikes in the 1980s, contentious negotiations regarding the collective bargaining agreement, and a recent arisen awareness over exploitative practices like the franchise tag. It’s a league that’s always straddled the line of favoring the team, and in turn getting the fan to believe the team and the laundry first. It’s a line of thinking that needs to dramatically change in the coming years.
Don’t paint Amos or Callahan as enemies in this system inherently built against them. You root for laundry, and they’re just humbly doing their jobs.
Robert is an editor, writer, and producer. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.