The Death of Team

It began innocently enough. Some well-meaning person made the suggestion. Why not put the player's names on the back of their jerseys? Team's name on the front, player's name on the back. Fans wouldn't have to keep checking the numbers in the program. Every player would be easily identifiable. It made perfect sense.

So began the long, slow demise of team sports, the end of an era when players put team success before individual achievements. Sound a little overly dramatic to you? I think I can make my case. The evidence abounds.

College stars are drafted by pro teams offering millions of dollars, but sometimes they refuse to play for that team, demanding to be traded to a team more to their liking.

Consider the emphasis  in sports media on individual awards over team success. Players are touted for the Heisman or the MVP or whatever statistical record they can reach.

College players are benched, beat out by a better player, and often tranfer to another program, rather than accept their new role on the team.

College stars decide to sit out their bowl game, rather than risk injury before the NFL draft. The team's achievement and the opportunity to play one last game for their team and with their teammates is secondary, easily set aside.

Fantasy sports (which I do play and enjoy) have changed the focus from the success of the team to the statistical success of individual players.

Free agent athletes offer their services to the highest bidders, with no sense of loyalty to their team or their fans.

Pro players decide to sit out entire seasons, choosing self-preservation and money over the needs of their team. Future contract considerations is an adequate reason for hanging out your teammates.

I admit I'm generalizing and there are exceptions, but put these examples together and you begin to get the picture. The days when it was all about the team are long gone. Rudy is a relic from history. Hoosiers doesn't happen anymore. We don't believe in miracles like we once did. Who do you play for? Yourself!

Now it's all about who scores the points, who sets the record, who wins the prize, the award, the trophy, who's the GOAT, the greatest of all time. 

I know I sound like a grumpy old man homesick for the good old days, but I can't help but think we've lost something significant, maybe the most important thing we can ever learn from sports - the concept of team. 

Vince Lombardi was once asked to explain the difference between a good team and great team. Lombardi said it comes down to how players feel about their teammates. If you really care about the player on your right and on your left, if you would do anything to keep from letting them down, if your best efforts are devoted to doing your part for the success of the team, then great things can happen.

The last holdout for genuine team sports may be in women's athletics, where the enormous and fragile male ego is not present to poison the pot. These words from Mia Hamm give me some measure of hope:

“I am a member of the team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”

You go, girl. Show us the way.


Rick Adams said…
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." --Spock
You have expressed something quite well that Spock and I have been wondering about. Keep up the excellent poking and prodding.

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