End of an era

Two professional Georgia franchises will start their 2022 seasons without their star veterans for the first time in over a decade. Five-time all-star Freddie Freeman and four-time pro bowler Matt Ryan will suit up for different teams, marking the end of an era.

After several months of anxiously awaiting deals to be reached between the long-time stars and their respective organizations, our days of watching Freeman walk-offs and game winning drives by Ryan (which earned him the nickname “Matty Ice”) in Atlanta uniforms are behind us. Their legacy of greatness, however, will remain in Georgia sports fan’s hearts for years to come.

When I was little, Freddie Freeman was one of the first baseball players who really caught my eye. Freeman was loved by Braves Country for his consistency and power on the field but also for his charisma and volunteer work off the field. Watching from the stands of Turner Field, Freeman walked up to the plate every at-bat with a certain swagger that commanded respect. When I was 10, Freeman alongside former Braves pitchers Shelby Miller and Lucas Sims held an autograph event at Academy Sports in Athens. I waited over three hours to meet the best first baseman in Braves history. Freeman’s 6’4’’ frame appeared even larger in-person, and the event was definitely one of my favorite memories as a sports fan.

On March 18, five months after he helped lead the Braves to its first World Series win since 1995, Freeman’s 12-year stand in Atlanta came to an end. The 32-year old returned to his home state of California by signing a six year, $162 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was a major blow to Atlanta fans’ dreams of having Freeman remain a Brave for the entirety of his career, but Freeman’s departure was more anticipated (given lack of re-signing talks) than the departure that would unfold three days later.

While Ryan’s legacy is often clouded by the things that he did not accomplish, such as being on the losing end of one of the greatest Super Bowl comebacks in NFL history, Ryan was statistically dominant. His 59,735 yards (8th all-time), 5,242 yards (7th all-time), and 367 touchdowns (9th all-time) are nothing short of remarkable given the Falcons’ general lack of offensive weapons. With a 54% win percentage as a starter in the NFL, Ryan became a much watched player this offseason for teams looking for a veteran quarterback. 

With the Falcons looking to rebuild after 4 straight seasons of finishing under .500, the “Dirty Birds” were looking for a young quarterback to build around. On March 21st, the Falcons announced that they traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2022 third-round pick. This created cap space that they could use to get a new quarterback– which they did immediately as former Heisman winner Marcus Mariota signed a two year, $18.75 million contract

This offseason, trades and free agent moves were abundant across the sports world, from the Premier League to the NBA and everything in between. As players continually prioritize the business aspect of the game, these major shake ups are becoming increasingly common, leaving fan bases wondering who they will lose next. 

In June of 2021, the NCAA adopted a “name, image and likeness” policy which allows high profile college athletes to get paid endorsements. This has fundamentally changed the way in which these athletes view the business side of the game as they become more familiar with sponsorship contracts and negotiations from a younger age. For more athletes to get paid, both in college and professional sports, there have to be companies willing to provide the funds. 

Sponsorships from digital corporations have picked up considerably recently, headlined by the renaming of the iconic Staples Center in Los Angeles to Crypto.com Arena. FC Barcelona soccer club announced a partnership just last month with Spotify, giving rights to the company to rename their grounds “Spotify Camp Nou.” With the MLB agreeing this offseason to allow sponsors to add their logos to team’s jerseys, we have to accept that the business aspect of the sports we love is here to stay. 

As professional sports grow in popularity, its stars will continue to raise the asking price for their contracts. In order to remain financially successful, franchises will continue to seek out sponsors and surrender certain rights to make it happen. There is no need to panic, as long as ten players are on the court for the opening tip of basketball games and a baseball flying over the fence still counts as a home run, everything will be fine. 

Your favorite players can’t remain dominant forever, and each generation of players will outperform the previous one. While it’s hard for fanbases to say goodbye to athletes who they have grown up watching, every good thing must come to an end. It’s time to look to the future rather than reminiscing about the past. 

Jacob Weiszer

Senior Jacob Weiszer is the Sports Editor for BluePrints Magazine. Weiszer is interested in pursuing a career in business or pre-law. Outside of school, Weiszer enjoys playing soccer and spending time with his friends. This year he hopes to cover a broad range of stories related to sports and the entire Cedar community. Weiszer also looks forward to working with his fellow editors and staff reporters to develop meaningful stories. The thing Weiszer enjoys the most about being a member of the journalism staff is being able to collaborate with his peers to cover important issues in the community.

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