Loyalty: A fading legacy

“What is desirable in a person is loyalty …”
– Proverbs 19:22

Last fall I asked a panel of human resources professionals whether I should include on my resume the fact that I held one job for 21 years, and worked for that company for 24 years. Does that show lack of initiative, or does it show loyalty?

The consensus was: Keep that on my resume. It shows my willingness to persevere even when things get tough.

Loyalty – to anything or anyone – is hard to see sometimes. We do see it if we look for it. For me at least, that is inspiring.


Today, the average person changes jobs 10 to 15 times during his or her career, according to about.com. Many workers spend five years or less in each job.


Reasons for changing jobs, according to about.com:

  • Higher pay
  • Relocation to a different geographic area
  • Career advancement
  • Choosing a less stressful job
  • Escaping an incompetent or negative boss
  • Changing career focus
  • Work-life balance
  • Reorganization at their company
  • Layoff due to duplication of their job resulting from a merger or acquisition
  • More interesting work
  • Skills and abilities didn’t fit the job
  • Lack of recognition for accomplishments
  • Outsourcing of job function
  • Company moved to a new location
  • Better alignment between personal values and organizational priorities

The employee takes the initiative with all of these job and career changes. In addition to that, job security is a thing of the past. Even if we want to be loyal, the boss doesn’t always want us around for the long haul.

For many reasons, it’s rare any more to spend an entire career at one company. (Unless you’re a politician who keeps getting re-elected, but that’s getting off-track.)

Professional sports

In a similar vein, professional athletes for decades were bound to their team. Contracts contained reserve clauses, which forced players to stay with one team. Players changed teams only if they were traded, released or chose to retire.

Forced loyalty isn’t loyalty. Athletes sought freedom to sign a contract with a team of his or her own choosing.


Cardinals Curt Flood 1968
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood is shown, March 1968. (The Associated Press)

In 1969, St. Louis Cardinals baseball outfielder Curt Flood became the first professional athlete to fight for free agency rights. Flood challenged Major League Baseball’s reserve clause. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn denied Flood’s challenge, so Flood sued Major League Baseball for antitrust violations.

In 1972, Flood v. Kuhn reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled against Flood in a 5-3 decision, stating that baseball was a sport and not a business, and therefore exempt from anti-trust law.

Although unsuccessful, Flood’s challenge helped open the door for other players to fight the reserve clause. In 1974, baseball arbitrator Marvin Miller encouraged pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play out the year without signing a contract. After the season, the players filed a grievance, claiming that they should be awarded free agent status. Baseball team owners disagreed, arguing that one-year contracts under the reserve clause were perpetually renewed.

On Dec. 23, 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz reversed the Supreme Court’s verdict and declared that Major League Baseball players had the right to become free agents after playing one year for their team without a contract. The ruling terminated the reserve clause from sports, paving the way toward modern free agency.

In 1976, Major League Baseball and its Players Association signed an agreement that allowed players with at least six years of experience to become free agents. The National Football League became the second North American sport to adopt a similar free agency policy in 1992, followed by the National Hockey League in 1995 and the National Basketball Association in 1996.

While free agency allows athletes to change teams as their contracts expire, some remain loyal to their employers. Here’s two easily identifiable examples.

Tim Duncan
San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan on Feb. 21. (The Associated Press)

Tim Duncan has played 18 years for the San Antonio Spurs, starting with the 1997-98 season. He has averaged 19.2 points per game over his career, has played in the playoffs all but one of those years, and played in 15 all-star games.

Kobe Bryant has played 19 years for the Los Angeles Lakers, starting with the 1996-97 season. He has averaged 25.1 points per game over his career, played in the playoffs 15 years, and has played in the all-star game every year of his career except one.

When you think about Duncan, you think about San Antonio. When you think about Kobe, the Lakers immediately come to mind. That’s what loyalty does.

In college basketball, coaches take center stage, since the players graduate in four years (if they stay that long). Again, here are two great examples of loyal – and successful – coaches.

After coaching at his alma mater, Army, for five years, Mike Krzyzewski has coached at Duke since 1980-81. He has won 965 games at Duke and more than 1,000 in his career.

Tom Izzo has coached at Michigan State (my alma mater, by the way) for 21 years, since 1995-96, after serving as an assistant to his predecessor beginning in 1983. His teams have made the Final Four seven of his 21 seasons.

Tom Izzo
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo on Feb. 6. (The Associated Press)



Both Coach K, has he is affectionately known, and Izzo have been tempted by offers to become NBA head coaches. Both have chosen to cement their legacies at their university programs. They are two of the most highly respected coaches in the game.

But as an example of loyalty, it’s hard to match Vin Scully. He has broadcast baseball games for the Los Angeles Dodgers for 65 years – since 1950, when the team played in Brooklyn, N.Y. (The team moved to L.A. in 1958.) He now is 88 years old, and plans to continue broadcasting in 2016.


While we may or may not have the choice to remain loyal to our employer, we do have the choice to remain loyal to our spouse (for those of us who are married). According to the American Psychological Association, marriage and divorce are both common experiences. In Western cultures, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50.


Healthy marriages are good for couples’ mental and physical health, the Association says. They are also good for children; growing up in a happy home protects children from mental, physical, educational and social problems.

However, 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.

Co-habitation shows a lack of commitment, which shows a lack of loyalty. Some of those relationships last a long time – most don’t – but those in them always have one foot out the door. Otherwise, they’d commit.

Nearly half of women in what researchers call “first unions” with men — 48 percent — moved in with no wedding vows, according to interviews conducted between 2006 and 2010, up from 43 percent in 2002 and 34 percent in 1995.

By the time they are 20, one in four women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S. have lived with a man, and by the time they are 30, that ratio climbs to three in four, the study shows.



In many areas of life, we Americans do not show loyalty the way we used to. Loyalty requires us, at times, to let go of our wishes and desires for the greater good. Many of us are unwilling to do that.

For those that do, the rewards are huge. My parents have been married for 56 years. What an example they have set for my sister and me – and for others who know them.

The respect we have for Duncan, Bryant and others like them also is top-notch. Both will join the NBA Hall of Fame the year they become eligible, I’m sure. And rightfully so.

If only the rest of us would follow in their (very big) shoes …


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