I’ve always believed that two of the most important qualities one wants to have in themselves and see in others is loyalty and trustworthiness; honesty is a close third. If you have these things in your friends, and they see them in you, then life will be great because you know there’s always someone who has your back, and it’s also known that the other party will never put you in a position intentionally where you have to test those qualities.

Sports messes that up drastically. I used to love sports; now I only like them a lot. Actually, that’s not even true. I love my teams, and sometimes players on other teams for whatever reason, but in general I don’t get myself geared up unless my teams are in the playoffs. The exception to that is the Syracuse University basketball team; I always watch those games from beginning to end, and if I could get better seats I’d probably go to every home game.

The thing about sports is that they “supposedly” stress teamwork and trust. They “supposedly” stress loyalty to the team and to the teammates. And they want honesty when it comes to how they’re feeling and doing, and want to express honesty back towards those players.

Yet, professional and college sports are businesses just like all other businesses, and overall, in business, the bottom line is what’s most important, not loyalty, trustworthiness, or honesty. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s trash, and sometimes popular players are treated like chattel and property, used to boost the team and its profile at the expense of the fans and without any regard to whether that player helped the team win championships or not. True, sometimes we don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes, but when this happens, just like in business, we’re all left to ponder what went wrong and what those at the top are thinking, and we make up our own minds on what we think occurred.

I started thinking about this the other day as I noticed that a blog entry I wrote last year on Barry Bonds got pinged around the same time that Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox got traded to the LA Dodgers for a player I’d never heard of, but someone who many later on told me was pretty good. All Manny did was help the Red Sox to two World Series championships by getting a hit in every single game they played. All Barry did was lead the Giants into their first World Series in over a decade and pass Hank Aaron as the home run king while wearing their uniform.

I heard that sometimes Manny wasn’t the best teammate in the world; I heard that when he was younger, the same could be said of Barry, but his current teammates, at least last year (since the Giants decided not to re-sign him and the rest of major league baseball colluded against him this year), loved playing with the guy. Manny was popular with the fans, but I guess his time was up. Barry was popular with the home fans, and I still think the Giants should have shown more loyalty. And major league baseball has violated its trustworthiness or honesty because Barry Bonds at 43 is still better than half the players in baseball today.

Still, it makes me think about business today. Companies ask employees for loyalty while looking for ways to cut benefits. They reward long term employees by looking for ways to reduce retirement packages. Some reward a loyal workforce, one that often has generational family relationships, by shipping jobs out of the country. Frankly, business has done a lousy job of encouraging workers to remain loyal, and it’s hard to believe that, in so many magazines, they’re lamenting a very transient workforce that won’t stay put long enough to learn their jobs well. Sorry guys, but the employees didn’t start this; you did.

If you’re a manager, or business leader with employees, you need to step up to the plate and decide what it is you’re really hoping to accomplish in business. Do you want loyal employees who’d do anything for you, or do you want mindless drones whom you can replace at a moment’s notice because you don’t want to take the time to invest in something more long term? Because, when all is said and done, loyalty, trustworthiness, and honesty are long term investments; what are you willing to commit to?