Calvin Johnson’s Legacy Should Remain Untarnished

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Calvin Johnson Does Not Deserve The Hatred He Is Receiving From Detroit Fans

I’m sure that everyone has seen the news about the conflict between the Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions organization. Fans have voiced their opinions on both sides of the conflict, and it seems as though every Lions fan feels strongly one way on the other.

Johnson is among the all-time great receivers. He is one of the greatest Detroit Lions players ever and certainly of our lives. If you were too young to watch Barry Sanders, he is the greatest Lions player of your lifetime. Seeing him retire hurt. There is no doubt about that. Watching his last game was hard for me, as I’m sure it was for others, but we understood the decision.

We could see his body breaking down as he aged. We could see the hits that he was taking, and how it affected him physically. We understood why felt that he had to retire.

After the recent comments about the Detroit Lions organization, fans have changed their tune. A man who was once revered by fans, a man who would surely have been immortalized as a Detroit Lions’ legend, was suddenly under scrutiny by the fans who adored him, for voicing his discontent with the organization that we love. It is easy to feel this as a betrayal and an assault on our loyalties. It is easy to take this personally. We shouldn’t.

Calvin Johnson doesn’t know you. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t have any ill will toward us. There is no single person that embodies all of Detroit Lions fans that Calvin holds a grudge against. Calvin doesn’t hate the Lions fans. He probably doesn’t love us either. We are the people that paid to watch him play the game of football. We are the people who watched him on television for entertainment. He isn’t alone in this. This is probably how most players feel. He doesn’t owe us anything.

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Not only does he not owe us anything, but he doesn’t owe the Detroit Lions anything. We like to idealize these players and organizations. We like to believe that these guys are committed to their team and all of their teammates. We like to believe that there is a camaraderie that these players hold above all else. We like to believe that the hometown discount is due to the love of a team, love of the fans, and love of the city.

The hometown discount is a matter of convenience and comfort. It is easier to not move across the country. It is easier to keep the same friends and relationships on a team. These are their livelihoods that we are talking about. If it is beneficial for these players and their families to move, they are very likely going to move, regardless of how much you or I love that player.

It is easy for us to see him wearing Honolulu Blue and convince ourselves that he has an inherent connection to us. The Lions drafted him, so that makes him a lifelong Lions fan. What if he grew up a 49ers fan?

We have no reasonable grounds to be mad at him for anything that he did during his football career, let alone after it. He is a human being that has a right to tell people how he feels about his former place of employment. We wouldn’t hate Tom Hardy for speaking ill of the director of his latest film that we enjoyed. We wouldn’t hate a gas station clerk for complaining about his or her boss after moving onto a new job, even if we frequent that gas station. Why do some of us feel compelled to feel anger toward Johnson for vocalizing the way he feels about his departure from his job?

Many of us feel negatively toward him right now, because he is saying negative things about our team. He’s saying bad things about our Detroit Lions. It alienates fans. I have to admit that it alienated me when the news first came out. I love Calvin Johnson. I love the Detroit Lions. How am I supposed to feel about the fact that they are in conflict? How are we supposed to feel about the Detroit Lions, now that this has been brought to light?

The truth is that this doesn’t involve us. Obviously we are not a part of the team, so we have no personal connection to anyone involved, but that isn’t even the point. Why do we root for the Detroit Lions? Who do we root for? Why are we connected to this team?

The Detroit Lions are not just the players that are employed by the team. When Suh left, we didn’t all suddenly become Miami Dolphins fans. When Calvin Johnson retired, we didn’t just quit watching football. If Stafford were to get traded to the Browns, Lions fans would not jump ship and become Browns fans. Players come and go, yet we remain fans. We aren’t fans of just the players, we are fans of the team.

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We’ve seen coaches cycle through Detroit. Some have had some success. Others have not. They all came and went, and our loyalty to the team did not go with them. If Caldwell leaves tomorrow, we will all still be Lions fans. We aren’t fans of just the coaches, we are fans of the team.

When Matt Millen was systematically destroying the Lions roster on the way to 0-16, we were still supporters of the team, even if we didn’t support the moves that were being made. Were we fans of Millen? Almost certainly not. We were fans of the Detroit Lions. Even Matt Millen couldn’t change that.

When Martha Ford took over for her husband, we remained fans. It wasn’t because we were specifically fans of Martha Ford. It was because we love and support this team.

None of those parts of the Lions are what we root for. It isn’t even the city that makes us a fan. I left Detroit when I was young, and here I am, still rooting for this team. We don’t root for the players, or the coaches, or the GMs, or the owners. We root for the Lions.

Calvin Johnson doesn’t hate the Detroit Lions. He has issues with whoever made the decisions that led to this conflict. Those people, or that person, is not the reason that we are fans of this team. His issues with those people should have no bearing on our image of the Lions.

I don’t think that Johnson hates Stafford. I don’t think he hates Caldwell. He had a contract disagreement with the front office that wasn’t resolved in a way that he felt was respectful. It doesn’t matter. His gripe isn’t with our beloved Lions. It is with members of the front office personnel. The organization is ever changing, and his issues with specific members of the organization should not influence the way that we feel about him.

If it does, we are not taking the side of the Lions, we are taking the side of the people who made the decisions involving his departure. As fans of the Lions, there is no reason for us to feel that this is an assault on our team.

As to the specific disagreement between the parties, it is all speculation. It seems that the argument has to do with the 320K that the Lions asked Calvin to return after the failure to finish out his contract. While this is not confirmed, it is likely. This is petty, plain and simple. It isn’t just petty on Johnson’s side, it is petty on both sides.

This was not a business decision. The Lions had the opportunity to claim 3.2 million dollars from Johnson for his early departure. They didn’t. If this were purely a business decision, they could have gone after the full 3.2 million, but they decided not to. The reasoning behind this is obviously unclear, but it does, on the surface, appear petty. If this is the case, Johnson has every right to feel slighted. If it isn’t, and Johnson is being absolutely ridiculous over some wrongly-perceived insult, it doesn’t matter.

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The money is an insignificant amount to both parties, and it could and should have been handled differently by both sides, given the current information. That said, if Johnson felt slighted by members of the front office, there is no reason why he shouldn’t speak out against it.

Sure, it hurts a few fans feelings, but he has a right to speak up for himself. Are we really going to fault him for that? Are we going to fault a guy who we followed with reverence since he was a rookie for saying a few words about how he feels he was mistreated? He gave us a lot in terms of entertainment.

He didn’t do it for us, but he provided it for us all the same. How can we reduce the entire career of one of our favorite players to a qualm that he has with the front office?

Don’t remember him for these controversial comments that relate to things beyond our knowledge of the situation. Let’s remember the player that he was. Let’s remember the spectacular moments that he gave us. Lets remember that he helped bring the Lions back from the joke of the league to a legitimate team in the NFL. He didn’t do it for us, but we also don’t watch the Lions for him.

Along the way, his career and our fanhood crossed paths, and we had the pleasure of watching one of the all-time great players to play the game of football. He doesn’t hate us, and we shouldn’t hate him either. Let’s consider ourselves lucky to have had the opportunity to watch him on the Detroit Lions, and recognize the fact that these players careers aren’t always the fairy tales that we like to imagine them to be.

We don’t have to take a side. We don’t have to hate Johnson. We don’t have to hate the Lions. We don’t even have to hate the guys who he believes slighted him. We love this team. We love Johnson. There is no reason that we have to feel that those are mutually exclusive.

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Thanks for checking out the article everyone. Go Lions! You can follow me on Twitter @Lanny1925 and be sure to join the community on the Detroit Lions subreddit. If you want to see more of my writing, check it out here.

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About the Author

Sean Lanigan
I love fantasy football, fantasy baseball, music, books, video games, and all things nerd. I'm a big football fan and a bigger Detroit Lions fan. I was born in Michigan but have spent the vast majority of my life living in Viking and Packer country. If you are a Lions fan in Minnesota, hit me up, and let's watch some football.