Months of speculation sucked the surprise out of today’s announcement that the Indianapolis Colts will release Peyton Manning tomorrow afternoon. However, that’s not to say that it makes the news any less morose.
It’s rare in the free agency era that an athlete has the opportunity to become synonymous with a city and a franchise. Peyton Manning, the Colts, and Indianapolis shared the same heartbeat, but those ties will be severed on Wednesday. The feeling won’t exactly be liberating.
There’s no escaping the corporate, bottom line driven nature of today’s NFL franchises. This league is a multi-billion dollar industry, and decisions on such a grand scale are often calculated, if not downright icy, but there’s something sobering about watching an 11-time Pro Bowler being shown the door from the only professional home he’s ever known.
Peyton Manning isn’t blameless, and the Colts aren’t necessarily to blame.
Manning locked horns with owner Jim Irsay over speculation involving Peyton’s health when he had every opportunity to take the high road, and the Colts couldn’t have been in a more difficult situation. Ultimately, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, and Indy couldn’t risk being left standing at the alter waiting for Peyton’s triumphant return.
Yet, the prospects of seeing No. 18 in Miami, or Washington, or anywhere else imaginable doesn’t seem fitting. Peyton wanted to be in Indianapolis, and the Colts would have loved to see him finish out his HOF career wearing the Horseshoe, but their fates were no longer intertwined.
We understand that it’s business, but with America’s dollars essentially fueling the NFL’s unparalleled popularity, it’s a shame that the league’s interests don’t resemble that of its fans more often.
Sports fans are among the most sentimental hobbyists on the planet. Watch an Alabama fan weep at the mention of Bear Bryant, or a Bears fan to Walter Payton. The list of athletes and cities that you could interchange into that sentence is nearly endless, and before it’s all said and done (if it doesn’t already) Peyton Manning’s name will draw the same sort of reaction in Indianapolis.
So why don’t we see teams protecting the relationships between their cities and their stars more often?
Again, this isn’t to say that Indianapolis or Manning are at fault, but it seems that in sports we should see more effort put into keeping homegrown stars in their homes. Obviously, free agency is something that athletes earn and profitability is a major concern, but with our hard-earned dollars eventually making their way to that all-important bottom line, it’d be nice to see OUR interests protected.
There is a kid in Indiana crying right now because the only sports hero he’s ever known will no longer wear the blue and white, but that’s okay. It’s just business, right?